Trump chief of staff leaving
VP’s chief of staff likely successor for White House job
The president says John Kelly will depart at the end of the year, continuing a major staff shakeup.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Saturday that White House chief of staff John Kelly would exit his post by the end of the year, capping the retired Marine general’s rocky tenure as the president’s top aide and portending a major personnel shake-up as Trump prepares to navigate a divided Congress and focuses on his re-election campaign.
White House officials said the two men had a private discussion Friday after months of mounting frustration on the part of the president about his chief of staff and nonstop speculation about Kelly’s future.
Kelly is likely to be replaced by Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff and an experienced campaign operative who possesses the political skills and network that Trump felt Kelly lacked.
But the departure of Kelly, a four-star general with battlefield experience and deep government know-how, deprives the West Wing of a seasoned leader who was seen by allies as a check on some of the president’s most reckless impulses.
The selection of Ayers was not final Saturday as the president attended the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, and the two men remained in negotiations about the amount of time Ayers would commit to serve, according to White House officials.
As he departed the White House on Saturday, Trump told reporters that he would
name a replacement in coming days, and that it may be on an interim basis.
“John Kelly will be leaving — I don’t know if I can say ‘retiring.’ But, he’s a great guy,” Trump said on the South Lawn of the White House as he prepared to board the Marine One presidential helicopter. “John Kelly will be leaving toward the end of the year, at the end of the year.”
Earlier Saturday, Trump picked an Army general, Mark Milley, to be his next top military adviser.
If confirmed by the Senate, Gen. Milley, who has been chief of the Army
since August 2015, would succeed Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dunford’s term doesn’t end until Oct. 1.
Milley commanded troops during several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kelly’s tenure in the White House came with its successes and failures and underscored a bigger question: How much difference can any White House chief of staff make with the headstrong and mercurial president, who often governs by impulse and tweet, is uninterested in reading lengthy
documents and is happiest at his raucous rallies?
Current and former aides say Kelly brought muchneeded discipline to a dysfunctional West Wing by limiting the number of visitors to the Oval Office, curbing erroneous information from the president’s desk and limiting attendance at meetings to people who needed to be present. He often talked the president out of his worst impulses, removed some of the president’s most contentious aides, including Omarosa Manigault Newman, Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Bannon, and provided the president necessary lessons in national security matters.
Among Republicans in
Congress and military officials, Kelly was seen as an essential steadying hand.
“He was a force for order, clarity and good sense,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “He is departing what is often a thankless job, but John Kelly has my eternal gratitude.”
Though Trump loyalists said Kelly tried to change the president too much, Kelly also drew derision internally for supporting the president’s rhetoric after last year’s deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and mishandling the case of former staff secretary Rob Porter.
In one of his most memorable episodes, Kelly falsely attacked Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat
who criticized the president.
Kelly’s departure is anticlimactic, after months of the president’s musing about replacing him and complaining about his chief of staff to some advisers even discussing possible successors. Still, current and former officials said Trump continues to respect Kelly, no matter how often the two men clashed.
Trump and Kelly had agreed that the chief of staff would announce the move Monday. But the president announced it Saturday amid a flurry of headlines he wanted to change, advisers said.
Army Gen. Mark Milley with President Trump at Saturday’s Army-Navy football game. Trump earlier chose Milley as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.