John Kelly Says He Warned Trump Of Impeachment If He Hired “Yes” Men

John Kelly, President Trump's former Chief of Staff, is speaking out nearly a year after leaving office

It’s been just under a year since retired General John Kelly left his position as President Trump’s Chief of Staff, and while he’s remained mostly silent during that period it appears that silence may be coming to an end. Kelly broke his silence during a political conference held yesterday at which he said he warned Trump that if the President hired a “yes” man to replace Kelly he would end up being impeached:

John Kelly, former chief of staff to President Trump, said Saturday he warned the president before he left the White House not to replace him with a “yes man” because it would lead to Trump’s impeachment.

Kelly also said he believed he could have prevented the current impeachment inquiry against Trump if he had stayed in the job. He said the inquiry could have been avoided if the president had surrounded himself with people who could rein in his worst instincts.

His candid remarks, made during an interview at a political conference hosted by the Washington Examiner, suggests he blames acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and others in the West Wing for not doing more to stop Trump’s behavior.

“Someone has got to be a guide that tells [the president] that you either have the authority or you don’t, or Mr. President, don’t do it,” Kelly told the Washington Examiner’s Byron York. “Don’t hire someone that will just nod and say, ‘That’s a great idea, Mr. President.’ Because you will be impeached.”


Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, has likened his time in the White House to wrestling with a bear every day, according to a person who spoke to him. The person asked not to be identified to speak candidly. Kelly also complained about the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, the person said, as well as what Kelly said was Trump’s obsession with news coverage of himself

Kelly and Trump were barely on speaking terms when the former chief of staff left — after 18 months of sometimes titanic clashes.

In one of their final conversations, according to a person briefed on the topic, Trump asked Kelly not to write a book — and Kelly agreed, at least until Trump was out of office.

During the interview Saturday, Kelly expressed some regret about leaving.

“That was almost 11 months ago, and I have an awful lot of, to say the least, second thoughts about leaving,” Kelly said. “It pains me to see what’s going on because I believe if I was still there or someone like me was there, he would not be kind of, all over the place.”

Mulvaney has taken the different approach of letting “Trump be Trump.” The acting chief of staff regularly leaves the West Wing to visit his home in South Carolina, or golf, or attend political events, according to current and former aides.


During a second panel discussion, Kelly called Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria a “catastrophically bad idea.”

“It didn’t happen while I was there — and a couple of other people recently left the administration and then he went with his instinct,” Kelly said.

The White House, not surprisingly, pushed back almost immediately:

A war of words broke out Saturday between President Donald Trump and John Kelly after the former White House chief of staff said he warned his boss that replacing him with a “yes man” would lead to his impeachment.

“I said, whatever you do — and we were still in the process of trying to find someone to take my place — I said whatever you do, don’t hire a ‘yes man,’ someone who won’t tell you the truth — don’t do that,” Kelly told the Washington Examiner at a conference in Sea Island, Georgia. “Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached.”

Trump fired back at Kelly later Saturday, questioning the veracity of the retired Marine Corps general’s remarks.

“John Kelly never said that. He never said anything like that. If he would have said that I would have thrown him out of the office,” Trump said, according to CNN. “He just wants to come back into the action like everybody else.”

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham confirmed Trump’s response, adding, “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President.”

Kelly also suggests that it’s at least possible that President Trump would not find himself in the middle of the impeachment inquiry he faces now if Kelly had stayed on as Chief of Staff. While this can be seen in some sense as Kelly seeking to put himself in a good light, I think there’s merit to the argument. As his successor Mick Mulvaney was, it’s likely that Kelly would have been aware of what was going on with Ukraine and that he would have known that the President wanted to make aid to Ukraine and further good relations contingent on Ukrainian help in investigating Trump’s political rivals. Had Kelly been in the White House rather than Mulvaney, he likely would have had another one of his arguments with Trump as he tried to explain why what the President wanted to do was an improper offense that would likely lead to his impeachment. Kelly might have even been able to convince Trump not to go forward with the demand. Of course, that’s alternative history speculation, but it’s at least plausible. Instead of Kelly, though, Trump’s current Chief of Staff is the very kind of “yes” man that Kelly warned about. And we know what happened with Mulvaney in place.

Notwithstanding the White House’s denials, it seems likely that Kelly actually did tell Trump what he claims in no small part because it would be consistent with pretty much the entire history of Kelly’s tenure as Chief of Staff. During that time, there were numerous reports from inside the White House about the conflict between Kelly and other officials, including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner who routinely ignored Kelly’s efforts to control access to the President and essentially went behind his back to get information supporting their positions to the President. In addition to that, there were several reports during Kelly’s tenure of his getting into often loud confrontations with the President as well as several threats by Kelly to leave office prior to the time he actually did so in December 2018. Given that, it’s not at all implausible that Kelly would say this to the President and, indeed, he wouldn’t have been doing his job correctly if he hadn’t.

In addition to all of this, Kelly is absolutely correct in his assessment that hiring “yes” men or women is a significant part of what appears to have led to the impeachment crisis that the President finds himself in now. A President who surrounds themselves with people who don’t push back on the President’s ideas, present him without alternative scenarios, or point out the risks of taking a certain action is likely doomed to make serious mistakes. This is especially true of a President like Trump who came into office with no government experience whatsoever who was not used to being told he couldn’t do things because there is a higher law — the Constitution and the laws of the United States — that he must abide by or that taking a certain action would not be in his political interest. Trump has always been someone who believed himself to be the smartest person in the room and now we’re learning what happens when there’s nobody there to tell him otherwise.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Impeachment, Politicians, Presidency, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. DrDaveT says:

    He said the inquiry could have been avoided if the president had surrounded himself with people who could rein in his worst instincts.

    Ah. The problem was a shortage of unicorn tears.

    Sorry, John. There are no “people who could rein in his worst instincts”. He rejects them like bad transplants.

  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Short version: Kelly says that Trump is going to act in a criminal manner, if someone doesn’t keep him from acting in a criminal manner.
    That is all.

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    The people who actually work with Trump know what a piece of sht he is. In contrast to Cult45.

  4. CSK says:

    Here’s what Cult45 is calling Kelly:
    1. A POS.
    2. A reject turned traitor
    3. Full of himself
    4. An incompetent idiot
    5. A terrible chief of staff

  5. Stormy Dragon says:


    Well, they’re right about #1.

    John Kelly joins board of company operating largest shelter for unaccompanied migrant children

    In a just world, he’d be in jail for kidnapping and child trafficking.

  6. CSK says:

    “…the genius of our great president.” Really? Where did Grisham acquire her press secretarial skills? The Kim Jong Un School of Slobbering Obseqiousness?

    It would be hilarious if it weren’t so appalling.

  7. CSK says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Sure, but that’s not why the Trumpkins think he’s a POS.

  8. charon says:


    Where did Grisham acquire her press secretarial skills?

    She probably is simply observant enough to notice how much sycophancy is required to remain on Team Trump and not get kicked off.

  9. Kathy says:

    I don’t think El Cheeto hires mere “yes men.” He hires ass-kissers.

    The difference is that the former won’t tell him he’s wrong, mistaken, or acting illegally. The latter won’t do so, either, but will also add he’s brilliant, his ideas are brilliant, no one else could even think of something so remarkable, he’s not wrong, he’s never wrong, he’s incapable of being wrong.

  10. Joe says:

    “…the genius of our great president.”

    Where, CSK, is the “unmatched”? She won’t make it another week with those sorts of omissions.

    “Don’t hire someone that will just nod and say, ‘That’s a great idea, Mr. President.’ Because you will be impeached.”

    “And he said, why not Doral, and we said that’s not a crazy idea.”

  11. CSK says:

    @Joe: Perhaps she should have remarked on “the very stable genius of our great president.”

  12. Kathy says:


    It’s like the fable of the lion, the donkey, and the fox.

    The lion, the donkey, and the fox gathered before a large pile of dead prey.

    “Friend donkey,” the lion said, “won’t you divide the pile into equal portions?”

    The donkey sets to work, and ends up with three nearly identical piles.

    The lion says “I’m very disappointed, friend donkey,” and with one swipe of his claws, tears the donkey’s head off. He adds the donkey to the kills, and tells the fox “Friend fox, won’t you divide the pile into equal portions?”

    The fox snaps off the leg of a goat, sets it aside, and gathers everything else into one pile. “Friend lion,” the fox says, “the big pile is all yours?”

    The lion says “That’s a great job of dividing into equal portions, friend fox. Tell me, who taught you to be so fair and just?”

    The fox answers, “the dead donkey.”

  13. Chip Daniels says:

    It seems ironic, but Kelly, like plenty of high ranking people, doesn’t really grasp the essential nature of our republican democracy.

    The Constitution isn’t set up to where the civil servants and political appointees can or should “rein in” the President. Its expected that the person who the citizens elevate to the position of Executive should have the wisdom and temperament to be trusted with the power the Constitution give him.

    When you go around declaring that the nonelected bureacracy should subvert the authority of the Constitutionally designated branch of government, that should be a clue that something has gone terribly, shockingly wrong.

  14. CSK says:

    @Chip Daniels:
    And, clearly, something has.

  15. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Chip Daniels: The Ship on the people elevating a wise public servant has sailed.

    And frankly, the whole”wisdom of the people” fable is exposing itself as a myth. The bureaucracy you deride…in fact…serves as a check on the large portion of the electorate who are incapable of contextualizing what the Executive Branch does with what they want it to do. E.G. wage war on people they don’t like, don’t understand, are afraid of. Democracy still has the flaw of assigning the same value to the vote of a fool as it does of a wise person. Having professionals execute our national intent over enthusiastic zealots is a way to mitigate zealous stupidity… particularly in an environment when many countries have their best minds working to secure their countries equities. A mom and pop operation like the Trump organization run at a national/international scale is a recipe for a pre WWI America.

    Maybe that should be the Trump Campaigns 2020 slogan: Make America Pre WW1 again

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Who is worse:
    The COS who says, “Do whatever you want, and I’ll find a way to justify it.” or the COS who says, “Don’t do what you want in blatantly illegal ways, do it this perfectly legal way. Sure, you won’t get the same press coverage, but there will be just as many dead women and children.”????

  17. Kathy says:

    Somewhat related, Trump got to hear a familiar chant at the World Series.

    I expect the deplorables to throw a hissy fit.

  18. CSK says:

    @Kathy: If it’s not reported in The Gateway Pundit, The Conservative Treehouse, American Greatness, American Thinker, or Breitbart, they won’t hear about it.

  19. Jax says:

    @Kathy: I think I’ve listened to the booing and the lock him up clip at least 15 times apiece. The look on his face as he realizes he’s being booed…..classic!

  20. KM says:

    Meh – some of them might have seen it themselves if they were watching the game and decide to vent on FB, Twitter or in comments somewhere. Trust me, if they think their lord and master has been dissed, they say something about it and the blogs will pick up on the trend 2-3 days later (after an appropriate amount of time to work on framing, of course). Had it been a football game, the outrage would have spread much faster but the World Series still has a pretty good viewership. A good number of Trumpkins actually saw it happen “live” as it were so they won’t be able to avoid it forever….

  21. CSK says:

    @KM: The Trumpkins are in a rage about it at They saw the pix and video in the Daily Mail.

  22. Grumpy Realist says:

    @Kathy: Was watching a documentary last night on the health issues of Henry VIII and how they probably impacted his ruling of England. One of the historians pointed out that it would have been almost impossible for a doctor to tell Henry to do things that Henry didn’t want to do–like cut down on wearing those tight garters and stop eating so much–even though the results would have been much better, health-wise.

    Ah yes, the difficulties of being a doctor to a tyrant….