It’s been nearly 10 months since John Kelly stepped down as Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff, and according to his latest statements, the retired general feels a little bad about it – not because he liked the job, but apparently because Kelly believes he could’ve helped the president avoid some of his costly recent mistakes.
Kelly said Saturday that before departing the White House he privately told Trump not to hire a “yes man.”
“I said, whatever you do, don’t hire a ‘yes man,’ someone who won’t tell you the truth. Don’t do that. Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached,” Kelly said at the conservative Washington Examiner Political Summit.
Kelly said he warned the president not to hire a lackey to run his staff. “Don’t hire someone that will just, you know, nod and say, ‘You know, that’s a great idea Mr. President,’” he told the partisan crowd. “ ‘Because you will be impeached.’”
At a certain level, Kelly’s comments are self-serving in ways that undermine their credibility. To hear the retired general tell it, he had what it took to steer Trump away from pitfalls, crimes, and impeachable offenses. It’s a strength Kelly apparently believes acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney lacks.
The trouble is, Kelly’s record doesn’t exactly back up the boast. After all, he was in the West Wing from July 2017 to January 2019, and during that time, the Republican president committed all kinds of misdeeds, as the Mueller Report documented in great detail.
If Kelly knew just what to do to prevent presidential high crimes and misdemeanors, his efforts fell short.
But what struck me as truly amazing was the on-the-record response to Kelly’s comments from White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham: “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President.”
No, seriously, that was her official statement.
Putting aside Kelly’s competence as a White House chief of staff, Grisham’s statement goes a long way toward proving his concerns about Team Trump correct. His point was that the president would benefit from a capable team, filled with sensible officials who have the will and the wherewithal to restrain Trump’s worst instincts.
Confronted with this awkward-but-accurate assessment, the White House responded by pretending Trump’s instincts are without flaw. Kelly just wasn’t smart enough, the argument goes, to fully appreciate the “genius of our great President.”
It’s a quote one might ordinarily expect from North Korea, not the White House. It’s also a quote reinforcing the very concerns Kelly was right to articulate.