Retired Gen. John Kelly, the most important “adult in the room” with Donald Trump, may be ready to quit and let the reality show star-turned-president fail on his own.
Kelly replaced Reince Priebus in late July. He has been credited with making the White House run more efficiently, pushing out extremists and incompetents such as Sebastian Gorka and Anthony Scaramucci, and controlling access to the so-called president. Those steps have somewhat improved Trump’s approval ratings.
But now there are rumors that Kelly has had enough of Trump’s unpredictable ad-libs and angry tweets. When Trump flew to Las Vegas yesterday, Kelly was conspicuously absent — and according to one reporter, he was actually pulled off Air Force One.
Gen. Kelly was originally going to be on AF1 to Vegas with Trump today but was pulled off flight, I’m told.
WH not answering Qs about it.
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) October 4, 2017
That tidbit was followed by this tweet from Democratic organizer Scott Dworkin. While he has not always been a reliable source of news, Dworkin has been a consistent outlet for the Washington, DC rumor mill.
— Scott Dworkin (@funder) October 4, 2017
Former government ethics attorney Sarah Smith seconded the rumor, adding new detail.
Just heard from good source John Kelly has ALREADY resigned & announcement being held for Friday evening. Can’t confirm by 2nd source though
— Sarah Smith (@SarahLSmith677) October 5, 2017
Of course, none of this actually constitutes proof, and the only way we will know for sure is a Friday night news dump.
Furthermore, these rumors may be misconstruing a reported “suicide pact” in which “Defense Secretary James Mattis, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson … vow to leave in the event that the president makes moves against one of them.”
But there are good reasons to treat this rumor as credible.
Start with the way Kelly came into the job in the first place, moving over from his position as Secretary of Homeland Security.
“John Kelly is destined to fail as chief of staff,” Alex Shephard predicted at the time. “There’s no evidence to suggest that Trump is really interested in changing his ways or becoming more conventional.”
Quite simply, “President Trump doesn’t like to be told what to do, even by people he respects,” Mike Allen wrote at Axios.
Former George W. Bush State Department counsel Elliot Cohen saw Kelly’s appointment as yet another impulsive move by Trump. “He will discover that he is no longer a general or even a cabinet secretary, but a political functionary—neither more nor less,” Cohen said in The Atlantic.
“He will soon find himself wrestling with the moral corruption that being close to this man entails. You cannot work directly for Trump while adhering to a code of honesty, integrity, and lawfulness” — the values that Kelly has lived by for most of his life.
For example, Kelly was also a friend of fired FBI director James Comey and reportedly considered resigning in protest of Trump’s decision.
Speculation became rampant after Kelly visibly hung his head during the August press conference where Trump declared the alt-right neo-Nazis at Charlottesville were “very fine people” and blamed the violence against their protesters on “both sides.”
While most observers seemed to agree that Kelly would last until the 2018 midterm season, by the end of his first month, The Washington Post reported on growing tensions as Trump chafed under Kelly’s control. “He doesn’t like how Kelly’s handling him,” a Trump confidant said.
Speculation redoubled after Kelly put his face in his hands during Trump’s United Nations speech threatening to “totally destroy North Korea” and calling leader Kim Jong-Un “rocket man.”
As White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to wave off questions about Kelly yesterday, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee remarked that the chief of staff was one of “those people that help separate our country from chaos” along with Mattis and Tillerson.
But the rumors may be true. John Kelly is a genuine patriot, whatever we may think of his politics, and has always put his country ahead of himself. So if he has in fact decided to move on and let the wheels come off of this administration, it means that matters in the Oval Office are even worse than we knew.
And that is a terrifying thought.
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