Chief of Staff John Kelly listens to Donald Trump’s ad hoc press conference on white supremacy and Charlottesville, August 15, 2017
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly resigns, effective at the end of December.
Donald Trump announced the departure on Saturday of Kelly, who held the post since July 2017: “John Kelly will be leaving — I don’t know if I can say ‘retiring’. But he’s a great guy.”
White House sources said that Trump and Kelly had discussed breaking the news to staff in a Monday meeting, but that Trump decided to go public yesterday.
Kelly’s departure was rumored for months, with other White House factions periodically spreading the claim. He was said to be at odds with Trump’s daugher Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, complaining that they were “playing government”, but failed to limit their influence even as other personnel complained that they did not operate within the system.
The former four-star general struggled to manage Trump and control a disfunctional White House. He was regularly caught in photographs unable to hide his discomfort as Trump spoke, sitting stony-faced or, on occasions, holding his head in his hands.
Colleagues said Kelly finally realized the futility of trying to control Trump and resigned himself to complaints about how miserable he is. In the past year, he has often come to work late and left early, saying, “I’m leaving and I’m not coming back.”
Still, Kelly was seen as a key supporter of hardline Trump actions. The head of Homeland Security before becoming Chief of Staff, he backed the Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, including the detention of thousands of children separated from immigrant parents.
“People familiar with the matter” said Trump wanted political operative Nick Ayers, the Chief of Staff to Vice President Mike Pence, to replace Kelly. But Ayers, who who has said he wants to return to his wife and young children in Georgia, will serve only on an interim basis through the spring.
Ayers is reportedly close to Ivanka Trump and Kushner, who are now “running the building”, according to a Trump ally. But several top aides have objected to his appointment, fearing it could lead to a widespread departure of staff.
When he entered the Administration, Kelly was touted as one of a group of generals who could deal effectively with Trump, said to have an affinity for military officers. But his resignation leaves only one, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, trying to maintain order in an often-chaotic Administration.
General H.R. McMaster — who was appointed National Security Advisor in March 2017 after the removal of Michael Flynn over contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — was forced out this past March. He was replaced by hardline activist John Bolton, whom Trump admired from appearances on Fox TV.