Axios is reporting that embattled White House Chief of Staff John Kelly spoke with reporters in an off the record conversation today and admitted that President Trump is the ultimate source of the stories of chaos amongst the administration staff and his cabinet.
In a conversation that Axios did not attend, Kelly told at least three reporters who paraphrased the discussion for the publication that Trump was probably discussing potential staff changes with friends and advisors outside the White House who in turn leaked details of the conversations to journalists.
Kelly made a point of preserving plausible deniability for his comments, telling the journalists that since he’s not present for all of Trump’s phone calls, he can’t be sure of exactly what the president is discussing, but nevertheless, the finger pointing was obvious.
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Journalistic rules typically prohibit reporters from attributing off the record conversations — which are usually done to provide background context to writers about sensitive subject matters — to specific sources in their stories, but since Axios was not a party to the conversation, they were not bound by the non-disclosure terms.
Among the other tidbits that leaked from the off the record discussion was Kelly’s claim that there are no plans currently to replace National Security Advisor Lt. General H. R. McMaster whom the press has speculated may be next on Trump’s hit list for dismissal.
Kelly also spent time defending Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who has also been rumored to be in jeopardy of losing his job after reports of spending $31,000 of taxpayer dollars on a new conference table for his office joined the stories of expensive private or first class travel by Trump’s billionaire-laden cabinet to undermine the president’s self-designation as a “swamp drainer.”
The Chief of Staff explained away the controversy over Carson’s extravagant table expenditure by saying that the cost was minimal when amortized over an 80 to 100-year lifespan, kicking the issue to a future administration to deal with if somebody wants to replace the table before that time span expires.
Kelly also offered an insight into how he evaluates potentially controversial actions by administration staff, first evaluating the legality of the actions before taking a few steps back to consider the ethics and possible public perception of any decision.
With the Chief of Staff himself the subject of multiple rumors of being relieved of his duties imminently, this leak of off the record comments pointing a finger at his boss may be the final straw for Trump, who always denies that he’s about to fire someone up until the moment he hits the send button on the tweet announcing their departure.