- White House chief of staff John Kelly is reportedly so frustrated with President Donald Trump that he threatened to quit last month after blowing up at Trump in the Oval Office.
- A senior administration official told Axios Kelly was just “venting frustration.”
- But Kelly was said to be angry enough that West Wing aides had to call his allies to calm him down.
The White House chief of staff, John Kelly, grew so frustrated with President Donald Trump last month that he threatened to quit, Axios reported Saturday.
According to the report, Kelly blew up at Trump during a private Oval Office meeting on March 28 and said he was going to quit as he was walking back to his office.
The Washington Post followed up with a longer story of its own on Saturday citing 16 sources, many unnamed, who said Kelly said, “I’m out of here, guys.” Some thought that meant he was quitting, according to The Post, while others thought that meant he was just going home early.
Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen reportedly had to calm Kelly and give him “pep talks.”
Around the time of the meeting, the White House was weathering a slew of scandals:
- Veterans Affair secretary David Shulkin had just been fired
- The president’s lead defence attorney in the Russia probe quit
- Trump was facing more and more questions over a $US130,000 payment his personal lawyer made to an adult film actress to stay silent about an affair she had with the president
- Reports surfaced that Trump wanted to target Amazon because of a personal vendetta against its CEO, Jeff Bezos
- Trump had just imposed billions worth of tariffs on Chinese imports
After the Oval Office meeting, Kelly apparently went back to his office and packed up some of his personal belongings, though sources told Axios that it may not have been because he was getting ready to quit. A senior administration official also told the outlet that Kelly was not threatening to quit but was just “venting frustration.”
The chief of staff, one of the few remaining bulwarks against Trump’s most volatile instincts, was said to be so frustrated that his colleagues in the West Wing had to call some of his closest allies, including Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, to convince him not to walk out.
Trump called the Post report false in a tweet Sunday morning.
“The Washington Post is far more fiction than fact,” the president tweeted. “Story after story is made up garbage – more like a poorly written novel than good reporting. Always quoting sources (not names), many of which don’t exist. Story on John Kelly isn’t true, just another hit job!”
Record turnover in the Trump administration
Kelly’s reported threat comes as the White House faces an unprecedented rate of staff turnover.
Since Trump’s one-year mark in January, turnover among top staffers has grown to 48% (as of March 15). That indicates Trump’s first 15 months in office saw more departures or reassignments than the first two years of the last four presidents’ entire first terms.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, fired via tweet; former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, ousted after the media exposed his extravagant taxpayer-funded travel habits; national security adviser H.R. McMaster, resigned amid widespread speculation that Trump had soured on him; and scandal-plagued Shulkin all served the shortest terms of anyone in their positions in recent history, with the exception of McMaster.
March 28 was reportedly not the first time Kelly had mulled quitting his job. He has repeatedly said to aides that he does not need to be in the West Wing, and he once joked that God punished him by making him Trump’s chief of staff.
“I did something wrong, and God punished me, I guess,” Kelly quipped.
Eliza Relman and Samantha Lee contributed reporting.
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