Chief of staff could be next in line to depart White House
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday accelerated a long-anticipated shake-up of his Cabinet in the wake of the midterm elections, naming new picks for attorney general and U.N. ambassador amid widespread speculation that the embattled White House chief of staff John Kelly could soon depart.
Trump confirmed his choices of William Barr to lead the Justice Department and Heather Nauert for the United Nations post as he left the White House, speaking to reporters over the din of whirring blades from Marine One.
If confirmed by the Senate, Barr will take over for acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker. An unfettered Trump installed him in place of the ousted Jeff Sessions less than 24 hours after the polls closed on Nov. 6 in the first move of an expected overhaul of Cabinet secretaries and senior White House aides.
After a CNN report Friday morning that Kelly could be stepping down in a matter of days, Trump did not pause long enough to take questions from reporters, though he teased he would make another big personnel announcement Saturday at the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.
“I can give you a little hint: It will have to do with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and succession,” Trump said.
Kelly was not at work Friday morning, though an ally said he was simply taking a day off and would be at the White House for a holiday staff dinner Friday night. The lights were off in his West Wing office.
He has not been asked to resign, this person said, requesting anonymity to speak candidly about a personnel matter.
Among White House officials, however, there is broad consensus that his days as chief of staff are numbered.
One senior administration official said Friday that it’s clear Kelly will be leaving though said it’s not certain that the departure was imminent as CNN reported. The official requested anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
Trump has engaged in talks with Nick Ayers, the vice president’s chief of staff, about taking over the position, advisers said. The president often remarks on Kelly’s lack of political skills and has told advisers in recent days that he needs a more political chief of staff for his re-election. Ayers, a sharp-elbowed and ambitious Georgia operative, fits the bill, advisers said.
Kelly, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, has been the president’s top aide since late July 2017. Trump has chafed at Kelly’s management style and resisted some of his moves to instill discipline in the West Wing.
Additionally, Trump is expected to name Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Army chief of staff, to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top-ranking military position in the country, administration officials said Friday.