John Kelly was once “the adult” in the West Wing, one who would protect the president from scandal (and/or himself), and reminisce about a time when “Women were sacred and looked upon with great honor.”
And thus, he’s given the president permission to send him packing. Or so ABC News reports:
President Donald Trump, furious over the handling of domestic abuse allegations involving one of his closest aides, has spoken to confidantes about the possibility of replacing embattled Chief of Staff John Kelly, sources close to the president tell ABC News.
… Kelly has made clear to the president in the last 24 hours that he’s willing to resign in light of the president’s dissatisfaction over the West Wing’s handling of the allegations against former Staff Secretary Rob Porter, according to sources who have spoken with Trump and Kelly.
Late Friday afternoon, Kelly denied that he had made such an offer (but then, over the past week, Kelly’s word has declined in value more than the Dow Jones).
In case you’re new to this sordid saga: Porter, Kelly’s right-hand man, has been struggling for months to secure a full security clearance — in part, because he allegedly physically abused both of his ex-wives. Last fall, White House counsel Donald McGahn explained this situation to the chief of staff. Kelly, prominent honorer of sacred women, decided that Porter’s personal history had no bearing on his fitness for a top White House job. Then, when that personal history came to light over the past week, Kelly’s initial response was to defend Porter as a “man of true integrity and honor,” and to (reportedly) encourage the staff secretary not to resign. (This decision may been informed by the lobbying of White House communications director, and current Porter girlfriend, Hope Hicks.) Then one of Porter’s ex-wives released a photograph of herself with a black eye, and Kelly expressed shock and dismay at learning what he already knew.
Trump has made a habit of loudly considering the idea of replacing senior staff members, but then declining to follow through. Still, Kelly has been testing the president’s patience from day one. The general was brought in to imbue the West Wing with a discipline that Trump apparently understands that he needs, but nonetheless doesn’t want.
And the inherent conflict in their relationship grew more pronounced in recent weeks, when Kelly told Fox News that Trump was not actually committed to building a border wall.
The president is actively mulling potential replacements for Kelly, according to ABC News, including his top economic adviser Gary Cohn, head of the Office of Management and Budget (and payday-lender services) Mick Mulvaney, and, of all people, Mark Meadows, chairman of the far-right Freedom Caucus. Meanwhile, Axios reports that Trump is also considering House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his friend and businessman Tom Barrack (according to ABC News, Barrack has no interest).
Meanwhile, Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Carroll is departing the West Wing. Carroll had recently assumed the role vacated by Kirstjen Nielsen, a Kelly confidante who left the West Wing to become Homeland Security secretary. On Thursday, Politico reported that Kelly had been “disappointed” in Carroll’s performance and “held back on officially bestowing the title, according to two administration officials.”
It’s hard to overstate how antithetical Kelly’s handling of the Porter situation is to his ostensible job. Of all the scandals the White House doesn’t need, “they covered up for a wife beater” is among the top. The president’s most significant electoral liability is his low, and sinking, approval among women.
That said, there is certainly a limit to how much one can blame Kelly for Trump’s troubles with female voters. Asked about Porter on Friday, the president told reporters that the former staff secretary “says he’s innocent and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent so you have to talk to him about that, but we absolutely wish him well.”