I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen reports in recent months about John Kelly’s imminent ouster as White House chief of staff, but in each instance, the retired general stuck around. That changed over the weekend, when Donald Trump announced that Kelly is stepping down at the end of the month.
Finding his successor is proving to be a little tricky – the president claimed this morning that more than 10 contenders are vying for the post, though no one seriously believes that – after Nick Ayers, Vice President Pence’s outgoing chief of staff, turned Trump down. There was no Plan B.
While the drama continues to unfold, the New York Times included a detail I hadn’t seen elsewhere:
To make room for Mr. Ayers, Mr. Trump, who famously avoids one-on-one interpersonal conflict, had been trying for awhile to pull the trigger on firing Mr. Kelly. Famous for the “You’re fired!” catchphrase and also for hating confrontation, Mr. Trump had looked for others to do the work for him last week – even attempting to arrange for Mr. Ayers to fire Mr. Kelly – according to three people familiar with the events.
The anecdote hasn’t been confirmed by MSNBC or NBC News, but it’s also very easy to believe given this president’s track record.
When Trump wanted to fire former FBI Director James Comey, the president dispatched his former bodyguard to deliver a letter to FBI headquarters while Comey was out of town. When Trump wanted to oust former White House Counsel Don McGahn, the president announced the move via Twitter – before breaking the news to McGahn.
When it was former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s time to go, Trump asked Kelly to do the deed. Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’ career ended when “other top officials hopped out of the black Suburban SUV that was carrying them from Air Force One back to Washington, leaving Priebus the lone passenger in a vehicle that then peeled out of the president’s motorcade.”
My personal favorite was the firing of former VA Secretary David Shulkin, who had a phone meeting with the president one afternoon in March, the day after the White House assured him he wouldn’t be fired. Just hours after the conversation, Shulkin learned by way of a Trump tweet that his services were no longer required.
Why didn’t Trump say anything during the meeting? Because this president loves to fire people, just so long as he’s not the one doing the firing.