Before John Kelly became White House chief of staff, he was Donald Trump’s first secretary of Homeland Security during a rather trying time for the administration. Soon after taking office, the president launched his Muslim ban, which Kelly was tasked with implementing.
This made the retired general the recipient of many questions, especially from Congress, and BuzzFeed reported on one conversation that apparently didn’t go well.
White House chief of staff John Kelly called Sen. Elizabeth Warren an “impolite arrogant woman” in a private email he exchanged last year with his top aide following a telephone conversation with the Massachusetts Democrat about the Trump administration’s travel ban.
“Absolutely most insulting conversation I have ever had with anyone,” Kelly, then serving as the secretary of homeland security, wrote to Kevin Carroll, who was then his senior counselor at the Department of Homeland Security, in an email from Feb. 8, 2017. “What an impolite arrogant woman. She immediately began insulting our people accusing them of not following the court order, insulting and abusive behavior towards those covered by the pause, blah blah blah.”
(Incidentally, “Blah blah blah” is a phrase with a rich legacy in Republican politics.)
BuzzFeed News’ Jason Leopold, who obtained Kelly’s email in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, added that in context, the “court order” he referred to in the message was “a temporary restraining order issued by federal judges in Massachusetts and New York on Jan. 28 and 29, 2017, which blocked” the president’s first iteration of his proposed ban.
But to fully appreciate Kelly’s complaints about Warren, it’s important to see the Massachusetts senator’s side of the story.
In a written statement posted to Warren’s campaign website – the incumbent is currently seeking a second term, which she’s heavily favored to win – the senator reflected on her frustrations at the time with the White House’s Muslim ban, and her decision to press Kelly for answers.
Trump’s new Director of Homeland Security – John Kelly – wouldn’t return our calls and emails. My staff emailed back and forth with his staff, but we couldn’t get them to set up a call or answer our questions.
When I finally did get on the phone with John Kelly, I asked if he had an office number that I could use in the future to get in touch more quickly. He brushed me off, directing me to the main line listed on the Department of Homeland Security’s website (really). Even worse, he bizarrely insisted that I’d made the whole thing up and we’d never tried to reach him in the first place. I happened to be looking at all the emails between his staff and my staff when he said this, so I started reading them to him. He accused me again of making it all up.
My policy staffers were in the room. And to this day, I’ve never seen so many jaws drop in unison. It was one of the first times we saw “alternative facts” so up close and personal. And one of the first times we saw how truly dysfunctional the executive branch had become – and how quickly. […]
Was I tough on John Kelly in that phone call? You bet I was. And apparently he didn’t like it.
No, evidently not. In an email Kelly probably didn’t expect the public to see, he described her as “an impolite arrogant woman.”
A couple of observations come to mind. The first is that John Kelly probably didn’t fully appreciate what serving in the Trump administration would do to his reputation.
And the second is that the more Republicans complain about Elizabeth Warren, the more she seems to like it.