In an interview with the Los Angeles Times shortly before his resignation as White House chief of staff in January 2019, John Kelly — who expressed visible frustration in his role as the so-called “adult in the room” just weeks into his appointment — explained why he stayed in such a difficult position for so long, saying “military people don’t walk away.” However, Kelly, a retired four-star general, did reportedly walk back from a different job that would have placed him in a more compromised position under his former boss.
According to New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt’s new book, Donald Trump v. The United States, the president offered Kelly the job of FBI director after he fired James Comey in May 2017, on the condition that he swear a personal oath of loyalty to him. “If he became FBI director, Trump told him, Kelly needed to be loyal to him, and only him,” writes Schmidt, in a copy of the book obtained by Axios. “Kelly said that he would be loyal to the Constitution and the rule of law, but he refused to pledge his loyalty to Trump.” Trump’s understanding of the executive branch during the reported job offer was not an outlier, either. “Throughout Kelly’s time working directly with Trump, Kelly was repeatedly struck by how Trump failed to understand how those who worked for him — like Kelly and other top former generals — had interest in being loyal not to him, but to the institutions of American democracy,” writes Schmidt.
While the special counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller was tasked, in part, with determining if the president obstructed justice by firing James Comey, the reported detail on Trump’s offer was not included as part of the inquiry, as the president’s lawyers limited the special counsel’s interview with Kelly to just two hours. This effort to limit the special counsel was also not an outlier, according to Schmidt, who reports that the Department of Justice “secretly curtailed” the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s connections in Russia. According to the book, former deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein restricted the investigation into the president’s Russian contacts without informing the FBI it was doing so, thereby limiting the inquiry to a smaller scope: investigating whether or not Trump obstructed justice or if the president and his allies broke the law in relation to Russia’s 2016 election interference.