Odds Are Steadily Getting Longer for John Kelly to Remain Chief of Staff
President Donald Trump's right-hand man is fighting to keep his job in light of the mishandling of Robert Porter scandal
The retired Marine general who brought stability and order to the White House as chief of staff for President Donald Trump is in trouble — his job is on the line.
A week after a bombshell report hit the internet that Robert Porter, the White House staff secretary, had allegedly physically abused his two ex-wives, the media are still investigating how Porter made it so high in President Trump’s circles for so long.
Porter resigned February 7, but unlike with other White House departures, this one still rings in the ears of the entire staff. The main question is whether Chief of Staff John Kelly, who was likely grooming Porter for a deputy chief of staff position, was aware of the allegations.
The allegations would have turned up in Porter’s clearance application, which lingered for a year in limbo. Porter had interim status, meaning he was awaiting approval from the White House personnel office for permanent security clearance.
It never came. Instead, someone leaked photos of one of Porter’s ex-wives, her eyes blackened, to the Daily Mail and The Intercept. Then came varied explanations by Kelly as to when he knew about the claims of domestic violence.
Kelly reportedly said he decided Porter had to go 40 minutes after finding out, sometime last week. Anonymous White House officials have been telling reporters Kelly is distorting how he handled the Porter issue. FBI Director Christopher Wray’s testimony Tuesday before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence worsened the issue.
Wray testified that the FBI submitted a complete investigation on Porter in late July. The file was closed in January. There is no reason, Kelly critics argue, that Kelly should not have known about Porter’s issues with his ex-wives.
Kelly succeeded former Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as chief of staff on July 28, 2017, with a mandate to stop the leaks and staff infighting that had hobbled Trump’s ability to make progress in delivering his agenda. Kelly did so in short order.
But now the internal criticisms of Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, have been remarkably nasty.
Kelly is “a big fat liar,” one anonymous staffer told The Washington Post. “To put it in terms the general would understand, his handling of the Porter scandal amounts to dereliction of duty.”
The Post also asked White House officials to have someone defend Kelly on the record.
“Nobody would come forward to do so,” said Philip Rucker, The Post’s chief of the White House bureau, speaking to NBC News on Wednesday.
The dissatisfaction now extends to Trump himself, it seems.
Zeke Miller, an Associated Press reporter, noted on Wednesday that at the end of a brief appearance by reporters in the Oval Office to get some photos and hear remarks on immigration, Trump “didn’t respond to multiple questions about whether Kelly’s job was safe.”
Later in the day, during another photo opportunity, Trump made clear he is irked by the questions about domestic violence.
"I am totally opposed to domestic violence, and everybody here knows that," said Trump. "It almost wouldn't even have to be said."
In Trump's White House, the quietness on Kelly is a bad sign. One year ago this week, Trump was mum when he was asked about Michael Flynn, then his national security adviser. Flynn left his job on Feb. 13, 2017, after he admitted misleading Vice President Mike Pence.
The situation is a big problem for Kelly, said one Trump adviser who works outside of the White House.
At least two such top advisers to Trump, including former Trump campaign aide Roger Stone, suggested Kelly's enemies have finally found his weakness. Kelly's perceived coddling of Porter has embarrassed Trump, and made domestic violence the issue the president looks hesitant to talk about.
But the biggest issue for Trump and Kelly, Stone told LifeZette on Tuesday night, is who will replace Kelly.
Trump has been reportedly calling people on a new replacement. One source confirmed to LifeZette that Trump contacted Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a wealthy adviser, but Barrack doesn't want the demanding job.
Kelly will likely stay on as long as he doesn't have a replacement.