Kelly “won’t suf­fer id­iots” Friends: For­mer gen­eral ruled by com­mon sense

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drew de­grand­pre

WASH­ING­TON» Twelve days af­ter Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion vic­tory, the pres­i­dent-elect asked John Kelly to meet with him at the Trump Na­tional Golf Club in Bed­min­ster, N.J., to dis­cuss the roles of sec­re­taries of State and Home­land Se­cu­rity.

It was a small gath­er­ing. Present was Reince Priebus, the Repub­li­can Party chair who later be­came White House chief of staff, a post that he re­signed last week. Also at­tend­ing was Steve Ban­non, Trump’s chief strate­gist. Kelly, like other re­tired gen­er­als, im­pressed the pres­i­dent-elect, enough so that soon he’ll leave his post atop the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity to re­place Priebus in the West Wing.

That Novem­ber meet­ing launched what has be­come one of the pres­i­dent’s most im­por­tant re­la­tion­ships within his be­lea­guered ad­min­is­tra­tion. He likes Kelly. He trusts Kelly. But what re­mains to be seen is whether Trump will lis­ten to him as Kelly seeks to bring or­der to a White House be­set by chaos.

Af­ter it was an­nounced that Priebus would be leav­ing, a friend of the Home­land Se­cu­rity sec­re­tary told The Wash­ing­ton Post that Kelly, a tough-talk­ing Bos­to­nian who spent 45 years in the Marines, is ide­ally suited to con­front the chal­lenges he’ll face.

“He knows how to do this: with com­mon sense and good lead­er­ship,” said the long­time friend, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to of­fer frank opin­ions. “He won’t suf­fer id­iots and fools.”

But Kelly did not gel with the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, and his mil­i­tary ca­reer ended on a sour note in Jan­uary 2016 af­ter he re­peat­edly clashed with the Obama White House.

Of­fi­cials there had grown tired of the four-star gen­eral speak­ing off mes­sage — about the pres­i­dent’s plan to shut down the prison in Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba, about the per­ceived vul­ner­a­bil­ity of Amer­ica’s borders and about the threat posed to Amer­i­can in­ter­ests by any num­ber of ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions. Their re­la­tion­ship had be­come so strained that in the weeks be­fore he re­tired, mul­ti­ple ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials went to the me­dia and ac­cused Kelly and

other mil­i­tary lead­ers of en­deav­or­ing to un­der­mine the Guan­tanamo clo­sure plan.

At Bed­min­ster, Trump and Kelly dis­cussed the gen­eral’s diplo­matic ex­pe­ri­ence and the se­cu­rity con­cerns about which both men re­main deeply pas­sion­ate.

His fi­nal job in the mil­i­tary, as head of U.S. South­ern Com­mand in Mi­ami, gave Kelly deep in­sight into the crim­i­nal net­works rav­aging South Amer­ica, Cen­tral Amer­ica and the Caribbean, and their il­licit traf­fick­ing pipe­line — for drugs, guns and peo­ple — run­ning north through Mex­ico and into the United States.

He has long ar­gued that transna­tional or­ga­nized crime is among the great­est threats to U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity.

The Obama White House didn’t al­ways ap­pre­ci­ate it. But Trump couldn’t agree more.

As Kelly moves to the West Wing, he’ll prob­a­bly move quickly to con­front the “real­ity tele­vi­sion show that runs on a rau­cous mix of drama, machismo and sus­pi­cion,” as The Post’s White House team char­ac­ter­ized it Thurs­day.

A big piece of that will be ad­dress­ing leaks and the pres­i­dent’s por­trayal in the me­dia.

“There’s a way to han­dle it,” Kelly’s friend said. “Sim­ply go dark and do not en­gage.”

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