A war of words broke out Saturday between President Donald Trump and John Kelly after the former White House chief of staff said he warned his boss that replacing him with a “yes man” would lead to his impeachment.
“I said, whatever you do — and we were still in the process of trying to find someone to take my place — I said whatever you do, don’t hire a ‘yes man,’ someone who won’t tell you the truth — don’t do that,” Kelly told the Washington Examiner at a conference in Sea Island, Georgia. “Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached.”
Trump fired back at Kelly later Saturday, questioning the veracity of the retired Marine Corps general's remarks.
“John Kelly never said that. He never said anything like that. If he would have said that I would have thrown him out of the office,” Trump said, according to CNN. “He just wants to come back into the action like everybody else.”
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham confirmed Trump’s response, adding, “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President.”
Kelly, who served as Homeland Security secretary before being tapped for the chief of staff role, also took a thinly veiled shot at his successor, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, saying Trump isn’t being managed properly.
“That was almost 11 months ago, and I have an awful lot of, to say the least, second thoughts about leaving,” Kelly said. “It pains me to see what’s going on because I believe if I was still there or someone like me was there, he would not be kind of, all over the place.”
Mulvaney’s standing in the White House has taken a significant hit after he told reporters — but later walked back — that the president wanted to withhold aid from Ukraine until the country agreed to investigate corruption, seemingly confirming the existence of a quid pro quo between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The news conference was just one facet of the White House’s widely criticized response to House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. Many, including confidante Sen. Lindsey Graham, have suggested Trump needs a better coordinated strategy to confront the barrage of stories and testimonies coming every day.
Kelly further suggested that the current White House set-up under Mulvaney may have opened Trump up to impeachment.
“The system that should be in place, clearly — the system of advising, bringing in experts in, having these discussions with the president so he can make an informed decision, that clearly is not in place,” Kelly said.
This isn’t the first time Kelly has opined on Trump or his administration.
Kelly, who is now serving on the board of a company that operates immigration detention facilities, was largely complimentary of Trump when he spoke at Duke University in March, but called the chief of staff position “the least enjoyable job” he ever had
“By no means is he a stupid man," Kelly said of Trump. "He's an accomplished businessman, and he's got all the education and whatnot, but not everybody is an expert on everything."