Donald Trump slammed John Kelly on Thursday after his former chief of staff openly criticized the president over a range of policies and praised a key witness that helped spur his impeachment.
In a pair of tweets, Trump said he couldn’t have fired Kelly “fast enough” and that the retired Marine Corps general was in “way over his head” as the top White House aide. The outburst came in response to a report in The Atlantic that Kelly laid out his disagreements with Trump in a speech on Wednesday.
….which he actually has a military and legal obligation to do. His incredible wife, Karen, who I have a lot of respect for, once pulled me aside & said strongly that “John respects you greatly. When we are no longer here, he will only speak well of you.” Wrong!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2020
Kelly’s most stinging rebuke came when he said Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a key witness in Trump’s impeachment, had acted appropriately when he raised concerns with his superiors about Trump’s July 25, 2019, phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave,” Kelly told the audience, The Atlantic reported. “We teach them, ‘Don’t follow an illegal order. And if you’re ever given one, you’ll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss.’”
Kelly also said Trump conditioned military aid and a White House meeting on Zelenskiy’s commitment to open investigations that would benefit the U.S. president politically — a rebuke to Trump’s repeated claim that his call with Zelenskiy was “perfect.”
Kelly, who was Homeland Security secretary before taking the top White House job, also took a swipe at the president over immigration. Kelly, The Atlantic reported, said that people who enter the U.S. illegally are “overwhelmingly good people” who are searching for a better life. They are “not all rapists,” he said, alluding to repeated comments by Trump that have painted undocumented migrants as criminals. Kelly added that the press is not “the enemy of the people.”
Kelly also belittled the president’s dealings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying Trump’s willingness to broker a nuclear deal was “futile,” because Kim “will never give his weapons up.” Trump has met Kim three times without achieving any firm agreement to eliminate Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal.
A representative for Kelly did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump selected Kelly as White House chief of staff in July 2017. He stepped down at the end of 2018 following a rocky tenure in which he attempted to impose more structure and control at the White House, efforts that irked the president and some of his closest supporters.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney was named as Kelly’s successor, but has remained in an acting capacity for more than 400 days.
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