Kelly may soon step down

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - NATION & WORLD - By Josh Dawsey and John Wag­ner

WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Fri­day ac­cel­er­ated a long-an­tic­i­pated shakeup 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.

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.

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.

But the story line of Kelly’s de­par­ture has been pro­tracted for so many months that White House aides of­ten now just shrug.

“Sure, Trump says he wants him gone, and Kelly swears and leaves and says he’s not com­ing back. But then he comes back,” said one for­mer se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial, who re­quested anonymity to of­fer a can­did as­sess­ment.

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 and con­tain chaos. In re­cent months, the chief of staff’s power has ebbed, with ad­min­is­tra­tion poli­cies and de­ci­sions be­ing guided more by the pres­i­dent’s gut in­stincts than by Kelly’s pro­cesses.

Washington has been abuzz with ru­mors about Kelly’s job sta­tus have been ram­pant at var­i­ous mo­ments dur­ing his 16-month ten­ure. But this past sum­mer, Kelly sought to quiet spec­u­la­tion that he was near­ing the exit be­cause of ten­sions with Trump by telling se­nior staff that he in­tended to re­main as chief of staff through Trump’s 2020 re­elec­tion cam­paign.

Trump and Kelly have pri­vately ar­gued at times and com­plained about one an­other to con­fi­dants, some­times in col­or­ful lan­guage. But the two men are gen­er­a­tional peers who have a mea­sure of re­spect for one an­other, and they have bonded over their shared ide­ol­ogy, es­pe­cially on im­mi­gra­tion is­sues, and their mu­tual griev­ances to­ward the me­dia and political es­tab­lish­ment.

Trump has long ad­mired Kelly for his mil­i­tary valor, but his lack of political ex­pe­ri­ence and in­ter­est in cam­paign strat­egy has made him an im­per­fect fit lead­ing the staff of a pres­i­dent who lives and breathes pol­i­tics. As Trump pre­pares for his 2020 re­elec­tion cam­paign, some ad­vis­ers have coun­seled him to re­place Kelly with a sharper op­er­a­tive who can steer the ad­min­is­tra­tion through the daily — and hourly — political fights sure to come.

DOUG MILLS / THE NEW YORK TIMES

John Kelly, a re­tired four-star Marine Corps gen­eral, has been the pres­i­dent’s top aide since late July 2017.

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