The exits of both White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis are both frightening and unsurprising to those who saw them as somewhat of a stabilizing force within the Trump administration. Although both have supported policies that were extremely unpopular, they do, at the very least, have many years of experience in government and foreign policy between them and have served as the cooler heads to temper Donald Trump’s reactionary tendencies.
“[John] Kelly defended his rocky tenure, arguing that it is best measured by what the president did not do when Kelly was at his side.”
Sounds very anonymous-NYT-op-ed-y https://t.co/AWvD2Wbj4D
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) December 30, 2018
With Kelly’s departure just days away, the outgoing chief of staff sat for an interview to offer his thoughts on his time in the White House. What is most notable about his tenure there, he said, is not what he did do, but what Trump didn’t do as long as Kelly could exercise some control over him.
What will no doubt rankle Trump the most were Kelly’s statements about the border wall that the president still pretends to back. In an exclusive interview with The Los Angeles Times, Kelly said:
‘To be honest, it’s not a wall…The president still says ‘wall’ — oftentimes frankly he’ll say ‘barrier’ or ‘fencing,’ now he’s tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it.’
Outgoing White House Chief of Staff John Kelly says President Trump's border wall is "not a wall," and the idea was abandoned "early on" in the administration https://t.co/RT1I2E864G pic.twitter.com/3Lqfy9Urpz
— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 30, 2018
At times, Kelly admitted that some of the worst things happened before he had an opportunity to understand them and convince Trump to stop them. The travel ban and family separation policies, for instance, were implemented before he was aware that they were being considered.
‘I had very little opportunity to look at them…Obviously, it brought down a greater deal of thunder on the president…What happened was Jeff Sessions, he was the one that instituted the zero-tolerance process on the border that resulted in both people being detained and the family separation. He surprised us.’
John Kelly distances himself from family separation:
“What happened was Jeff Sessions, he was the one that instituted the zero-tolerance process on the border that resulted in both people being detained and the family separation. He surprised us.” https://t.co/AWvD2Wbj4D
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) December 30, 2018
Kelly admitted that Trump doesn’t appear to know much about the constitutional powers of the presidency, but that with Kelly aboard, he was able to convince Trump that his powers were not unlimited.
‘Trump sometimes pressed his advisors on the limits of his authority under the law, often asking Kelly, “‘Why can’t we do it this way?’”
‘But Trump never ordered him to do anything illegal, Kelly stressed, “because we wouldn’t have.”
‘“If he had said to me, ‘Do it, or you’re fired,’” Kelly said he would have resigned.’
Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly said today what I said on tv last week
We don’t need a wall, it isn’t requested by Border Patrol and other things are much more needed to stop illegal immigration
The secret is, Trump says “wall” to get people worked up…but it’s silly pic.twitter.com/fIrEYJFhoP
— Matt Jones (@MattJonesRadio) December 30, 2018
One issue that Kelly was able to tide but has now fallen apart with his announced departure are the military operations in the Middle East. Shortly after Kelly announced his resignation, Trump made a decision without consulting anyone to pull troops from Syria and most from Afghanistan, a move Kelly had warned him about repeatedly and thought he had under control.
‘When I first took over, he was inclined to want to withdraw from Afghanistan. He was frustrated. It was a huge decision to make … and frankly there was no system at all for a lot of reasons — palace intrigue and the rest of it — when I got there.’
Oh hell. I remember when Mattis, John Kelly and Tillerson made a pact that one of them would always be babysitting Trump. With Mattis gone, #PresidentLoco is now without adult supervision. Be afraid, America. Be very, afraid.
— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) December 20, 2018
He saw the most important task of his tenure, Kelly explained, as at least giving Trump the information he would need to make a decision. Whether or not the president actually listened or considered opposing arguments, however, was not up to Kelly.
‘It’s never been: The president just wants to make a decision based on no knowledge and ignorance. You may not like his decision, but at least he was fully informed on the impact.’
John Kelly says Trump never ordered him to do anything illegal. https://t.co/VW2vRgiB1N pic.twitter.com/fDyQNqJ7i9
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) December 30, 2018
Trump will undoubtedly shoot back against Kelly’s statements. The two have often been at odds with one another on policy and what should be considered best for the country. Kelly, however, will soon be free to say whatever he likes. Considering the tone of Kelly’s interview, however, he may have already done so in an infamous op-ed.
Featured image screenshot via YouTube