White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has outlasted Steve Bannon, Reince Preibus, and even Omarosa in the Trump administration. But now, he could be done in by his handling of abuse allegations against former aide Rob Porter, with reports swirling that President Trump is thinking of replacing him.
The media narrative about Kelly—that he is an “adult in the room” protecting Trump from his worst impulses, and not just another racist and disgusting White House hack—is also finally beginning to weaken, though it was always absurd.
One ominous sign for Kelly: White House staffers are beginning to trash him anonymously to the press. On Friday, they went behind his back to accuse him of trying to get them to lie about his handling of the Porter situation.
In a staff meeting with senior staff this morning, Kelly told those present to say he took action against Porter just 40 minutes after learning that the allegations of abuse were credible, staffers who were in the meeting told The Washington Post.
“He told the staff he took immediate and direct action,” one of the officials said, adding that aides expressed disbelief about that telling of events, which they did not consider to be true, after the meeting.
Kelly also reportedly asked his underlings to convey that he cares deeply about domestic violence, a sentiment that would feel deeply out of step with his actions even if President Trump himself hadn’t just wished Porter best of luck in his future endeavors on Friday afternoon.
Kelly’s latest spin on the scandal directly contradicts earlier reporting as well as accounts from other White House officials. In fact, as both CNN and the Post have reported, Kelly was aware for months that Porter’s ex-wives gave accounts of the abuse to the FBI during a routine background check, and it was well-known as early as last fall that Porter had been denied a security clearance as a result.
When the allegations were first reported by The Daily Mail on Tuesday, Kelly offered a glowing statement of support—written by communications director Hope Hicks, who’s reportedly romantically involved with Porter—calling the staff secretary a “man of true integrity and honor” and “a friend, a confidante, and a trusted professional.” Behind the scenes, he reportedly urged Porter to stand his ground and stay in his job.
More broadly, this is just the latest sordid development in a story that the administration can’t seem to get straight, perhaps owning to the fact that it’s run by an admitted sexual predator.
Update, 4:17 PM: ABC reported that Kelly “has made clear to the president in the last 24 hours that he’s willing to resign in light of the president’s dissatisfaction” over the Porter scandal, though it’s unlikely that he will go any time soon.