Enough is enough. It’s time for President Donald Trump to cut loose Chief of Staff John Kelly. It can be done as a resignation reluctantly accepted, or as an old-fashioned firing. It doesn’t matter how it’s done, it just needs to get done.
The job of a White House chief of staff is to make sure the information the president needs gets to him, and for the staff to be properly administered. On these tasks, Kelly has been an abject failure.
An effective chief of staff would not have kept information from the President that Rob Porter, his own former staff secretary, was credibly accused of multiple counts of domestic violence — yet that is exactly what Kelly did. We’ve heard the excuses: that the FBI reported the allegations to Kelly but was still conducting their background check, or that the FBI’s background check wasn’t thorough. The FBI denies this account, claiming they informed the White House as early as last March.
Either of these options are an unacceptable failure by Kelly. If the FBI was thorough, then Kelly kept this information from the president until it blew up in his face. If the FBI was vague, then Kelly failed to demand further information as quickly as possible, and to fully inform the president of the possible situation.
It was Kelly’s job to prevent what happened from happening. That’s Kelly’s failure alone, and it should cost him his job.
If Kelly withheld important information about a member of President Trump’s senior staff from him, what else might he be keeping from the president? The Chief is the funnel through which all information flows into the Oval Office; trust in that position is paramount. Kelly has burned that trust to the ground with Porter.
Why would Kelly risk the president’s credibility to protect an accused woman-beater? One possibility is the rumor that Kelly wants out, wants to be the next secretary of Defense, and was grooming Porter to replace him in exchange for help securing the nomination. If this is true, it’s all the more reason to relieve Kelly of his job. A chief of staff’s loyalties cannot be divided; they must be fully dedicated to the president of the United States.
FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before Congress that the White House was informed about Porter long before the White House claimed they were. The person at the White House who would have been informed by the FBI is John Kelly.
Before Wray’s revelation, Kelly might have survived. And had this been an isolated incident, it might be forgivable. But it is not.
Important information is not making its way to the president. The Rob Porter fiasco is just the latest, most glaring example of Kelly’s failure. The Trump administration is acting in ways that are contradictory to not only the president’s campaign promises, but to his agenda, and in ways that trace back to Kelly.
The Justice Department is looking to shut down medical marijuana throughout the country, for example. This runs counter to the president’s unambiguously stated position. Kelly told Fox News the president’s position on building a border wall has “evolved”; the president quickly contradicted him, but the damage was done.
A good chief of staff would never allow these things to happen.
So who could be trusted to take Kelly’s place, and to serve the president over a personal agenda?
Finding a successor to Kelly will be problematic. Most of the seasoned Washington hands who might be considered for the job likely consider it a fool’s errand. In this case, the job requires someone whose loyalty would not be suspect.
That winnows down the list of potential choices given how most of the Republican establishment still shakes its head at the thought of a Trump presidency — despite it having been, on policy matters, quite a success thus far. One who could fit the bill is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. An early Trump supporter and a former member of Congress, Zinke scores 100 out of 100 on the loyalty scale. He has also been one of the more successful members of the president’s cabinet. He’s done all he was called on to do and more and has — by aggressively supporting an “American energy first” agenda — played a key role in helping bring the nation’s economy back from the brink where Trump’s two predecessors left it.
As a former Navy SEAL, Zinke has the military background Trump respects, and the leadership training necessary to handle crises and to manage the institutional conflicts inherent in any organization, especially the West Wing. Taking him out of the Cabinet would be a loss. Fortunately, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs Doug Domenech, whose portfolio was recently expanded, is a former Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources and could step into Zinke’s role quite easily.
Whoever follows Kelly is important, but it’s more important that Kelly be gone while there’s still a presidency to serve. If John Kelly remains chief of staff, there is a growing possibility there won’t be much of one left.