White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s status in the Oval Office pecking order has been in question of late as rumors of strains in the relationship between Kelly and President Trump have surfaced.
Now NBC News is reporting that Kelly has “eroded morale in the West Wing in recent months with comments to aides that include insulting the president’s intelligence and casting himself as the savior of the country.”
The news outlet attributes the reports to eight current and former White House officials who have portrayed the chief of staff as increasingly detached and wielding diminished influence, while saying they are uncertain about how long he’ll remain in his job.
The view that Kelly has been the grown-up in the White House, restoring order to the chaotic environment presided over by his predecessor in the job former RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, has been undermined by the portrayal in the NBC News report which characterizes Kelly as self-aggrandizing and arrogant.
“The officials said Kelly portrays himself to Trump administration aides as the lone bulwark against catastrophe, curbing the erratic urges of a president who has a questionable grasp on policy issues and the functions of government,’ the article says. “He has referred to Trump as “an idiot” multiple times to underscore his point, according to four officials who say they’ve witnessed the comments.”
The sources giving the negative accounts of Kelly’s behavior say that President Trump is aware of at least some of what his chief of staff has been saying behind his back.
“He says stuff you can’t believe,” said one senior White House official. “He’ll say it and you think, ‘That is not what you should be saying.'”
Given what eventually happened to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after he reportedly called Trump “a moron,” calling the president an idiot seems to be not the best way to keep his job.
Indeed, several sources close to the White House say that they expect Kelly to depart by the one year anniversary of his appointment in July because it appears that the president and his chief of staff are “tired of each other.”
Kelly’s tenure has been marked by several instances where he intervened to steer the president away from policies that he felt were unwise reportedly including the unilateral withdrawal of American troops from South Korea and accepting a compromise with Democrats to solve the DACA issue.
“He doesn’t even understand what DACA is. He’s an idiot,” Kelly said in one meeting, according to two officials who were present. “We’ve got to save him from himself.”
The chief of staff was also caught up in the controversy over security clearances with his defense of former top aide Rob Porter who was denied permanent security clearance and forced to resign after allegations of spousal abuse surfaced.
Kelly responded to the NBC story by issuing a statement calling the article “total BS” and claiming that he and the president have “an incredibly candid and strong relationship.”
“He always knows where I stand, and he and I both know this story is total BS.”
He called the report “another pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump and distract from the administration’s many successes.”
Despite the chief of staff’s protestations, probably the best way to ascertain the veracity of the story is to check back in July to see if Kelly still has a job.