President Trump trashed his former Chief of Staff John Kelly on Thursday after the retired Marine Corps general finally let loose on his misgivings about Trump’s behavior regarding North Korea, illegal immigration, military discipline, Ukraine, and the news media.
In a 75-minute speech and Q&A session at Drew University, first reported by The Atlantic, Kelly, who left the White House in early 2019, took some less-than-subtle shots at his former boss. He said ousted impeachment witness Alexander Vindman was rightly disturbed by Trump’s infamous phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and was simply doing his job when he reported his concerns.
“He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave,” Kelly reportedly said. “He went and told his boss what he just heard.”
Trump hit back, suggesting Kelly—whom he once called “a Great American”—was in “way over his head” as chief of staff and “went out with a whimper” and that he “terminated” him.
Trump then dragged Kelly’s wife into the fray, claiming she once promised that the four-star general would only speak well of Trump.
Anthony Scaramucci, the short-lived member of the Trump administration, and Kellyanne Conway’s husband George Conway, a vocal Trump critic, stepped in to defend Kelly.
But Trump critics weren’t ready to welcome Kelly into the fold, questioning his convenient discovery of a moral compass now, rather than during his time in the White House and as Homeland Security secretary.
Political analyst and prominent Never Trumper Bill Kristol said it would have been better to hear Kelly’s defense of Lt. Col. Vindman during the impeachment debate.
“Nice to see John Kelly’s Please Forgive Me Tour is off to a strong start. Would have been nice if he had spoken out a long time ago,” Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) tweeted.
“If he despised the president so much why did he accept the chief of staff job after having served as DHS secretary?” right-wing radio host Mark Levin tweeted.
Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, said he didn’t care what Kelly had to say.
“He disqualified any opinion he’ll ever have when, before the separation policy, he said stealing children from their parents would be a good way to ‘deter’ other families. He also likely knows things about Trump’s corruption he isn’t sharing,” he posted.
Kelly, who helped Trump enforce a policy of putting migrant children in cages, told the college audience Wednesday that he though migrants were “overwhelmingly good people” and “not all rapists... and it’s wrong to characterize them that way. I disagreed with the president a number of times.”
Since he left the White House, Kelly has served on the board of Caliburn International, which is the parent company of a firm that operates shelters for unaccompanied migrant children.
He said he didn’t support Trump’s characterization of the press as the “enemy of the people,” and he was skeptical of Trump’s lofty ambitions to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
“President Trump tried—that’s one way to put it. But it didn’t work,” he said.
Kelly ran the Department of Homeland Security before being tapped by Trump to replace outgoing Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. He had a strained relationship with the president throughout his tenure, looking visibly troubled during Trump’s Charlottesville speech and enduring persistent rumors of a rift with his boss.
On Wednesday, he said it was a “killer” working for Trump and he disagreed with the president a number of times. He said his wife, Karen, encouraged him to take the job at DHS in the Trump administration.
“I frankly think he needs you and people like you,” she told him, according to Kelly.