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Gen. Kelly said telling Trump no was ‘like French kissing a chainsaw’ says new book

Chief of staff John Kelly, right, holds the door for President Donald Trump during an event on illegal immigration and border security in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
August 31, 2020

Former White House Chief of Staff and retired Marine Gen. John Kelly said challenging President Donald Trump during his White House tenure was like “French kissing a chainsaw,” according to a forthcoming book by New York Times journalist Michael Schmidt, titled “Donald Trump v. The United States.”

Axios reported Sunday, based on a preview of Schmidt’s forthcoming book, that Kelly struggled during his White House tenure to keep Trump’s authority in check. Schmidt, drawing from interviews with Kelly, wrote that “Trump wanted to behave like an authoritarian and repeatedly had to be restrained and told what he could and could not legally do” and that “Kelly has said that having to say no to Trump was like ‘French kissing a chainsaw.'”

A portion of the book based on Kelly’s account of his time at the White House may provide new information about Trump’s decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey. According to Kelly, Trump called him a day after firing Comey to offer him the newly vacant FBI director position. “But the president added something else,” an excerpt from Schmidt’s book said, “if he became FBI director, Trump told him, Kelly needed to be loyal to him, and only him.”

Schmidt claims Kelly pushed back on the loyalty request and wrote, “Kelly said that he would be loyal to the Constitution and the rule of law, but he refused to pledge his loyalty to Trump.”

At the time Trump fired Comey in May 2017, Kelly was serving as the Secretary of Homeland Security. Despite allegedly turning down the FBI director position and Trump’s reported loyalty request, Kelly went on to serve as the White House Chief of Staff from July 2017 until January 2019. Christopher Wray has instead been appointed to the FBI directorship, where he has served since 2017.

In his May 2017 letter informing Comey of his firing decision, Trump cited the recommendations by then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that he dismiss Comey. At the time, Trump criticized Comey’s handling of allegations that his campaign colluded with Russia and in his letter wrote, “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”

Schmidt’s claim Trump requested loyalty from Kelly is similar to claims Comey himself has made, alleging Trump also asked him for loyalty while he still served as the FBI director.

Trump has called Comey “a proven LEAKER & LIAR” and a Department of Justice investigation determined Comey violated policy in facilitating media leaks of notes he took in meetings with Trump; however, the DOJ has since declined to prosecute Comey for his actions.

As he was leaving the White House in January of 2019, Kelly defended his tenure and said that while Trump often questioned the limits of his authority as president, Trump never asked Kelly to do anything illegal “because we wouldn’t have.”

In another break with the White House, Kelly said he believed in impeachment claims against Trump, alleging he inappropriately pressured his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Joe Biden.

Nikki Haley, Trump’s former Ambassador to the United Nations, has criticized Kelly’s time in the administration. In her 2019 book “With All Due Respet,” Haley claimed Kelly tried to enlist her help in resisting Trump from within his administration. Haley said Kelly and Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to convince her “they were trying to save the country” and that “the president didn’t know what he was doing.” Haley said she was shocked by their request and felt “it goes against the Constitution, and it goes against what the American people want.”