Kelly Goes Nuclear In Oval Office, Threatens To Quit: Report

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly threatened to quit in late March after a blow up with Trump in a meeting in the Oval Office, reports Axios.

Kelly was reportedly heard muttering about quitting as he stormed back to his office after the March 28 argument - however sources say it wasn't related to the firing of former Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin which happened the same day. 

A senior administration official said that calling it a threat was "probably too strong, it was more venting frustration." Kelly often says he doesn't have to be there and didn't seek the job originally. -Axios

 Details (via Axios):

  • Kelly packed up some personal belongings, though I'm told that wasn't necessarily because he was walking out. 
  • He was fired up enough that colleagues got allies to call in to calm him down
  • At one point DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen — perhaps the person in the administration he trusts most — came over to talk him off the ledge

Meanwhile, President Trump has reportedly been sidestepping Kelly of late - telling one confidant that he's "tired of being told no" by Kelly, and has instead opted to simply not include his Chief of Staff in various matters, according to CBS News, citing a person who was not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity. 

When President Donald Trump made a congratulatory phone call to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, White House chief of staff John Kelly wasn't on the line. When Mr. Trump tapped John Bolton to be his next national security adviser, Kelly wasn't in the room.

And when Mr. Trump spent a Mar-a-Lago weekend stewing over immigration and trade, Kelly wasn't in sight.

Kelly, once empowered to bring order to a turbulent West Wing, has receded from view, his clout diminished, his word less trusted by staff and his guidance less tolerated by an increasingly go-it-alone president. -CBS News

Kelly had made it a practice for months to listen in on many of the president's calls - particularly with world leaders. He also reportedly advocated against the hiring of John Bolton. 

"It's not tenable for Kelly to remain in this position so weakened," said Chris Whipple, author of "Gatekeepers," a history of modern White House chiefs of staff. "More than any of his predecessors, Donald Trump needs an empowered chief of staff to tell him what he does not want to hear. Trump wants to run the White House like the 26th floor of Trump Tower, and it's simply not going to work."

In December we reported that President Trump had been calling White House aides to his private residence in the evening where he would give them new assignments - asking them not to tell Kelly.

John has been successful at putting in place a stronger chain of command in the White House, requiring people to go through him to get to the Oval Office,” said Leon Panetta, a White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton who worked with Mr. Kelly, a four-star Marine general, in the Department of Defense. “The problem has always been whether or not the president is going to accept better discipline in the way he operates. He’s been less successful at that.” -WSJ

This is all just inevitable,” said one person close to Mr. Trump. “It’s not that Mr. Kelly is wrong—we all know he’s terribly competent.

Meanwhile, frustrated friends of the President have also reportedly gotten around Kelly's "do not call" list by calling Melania Trump in order to pass messages to her husband, according to two people familiar with the matter.

"[S]ince she arrived in the White House from New York in the summer, the first lady has taken on a more central role as a political adviser to the president."

 

If I don’t want to wait 24 hours for a call from the president, getting to Melania is much easier,” one person said. -WSJ

Melania Trump's office issued a harsh rebuke to the Wall St. Journal, stating This is more fake news and these are more anonymous sources peddling things that just aren’t true. The First Lady is focused on her own work in the East Wing.” 

Trump's Twitter feed is still off limits to Kelly, who's been rolling his eyes at questions over potential diplomatic quagmires such as the time he called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "short and fat." Asked about the incident, Kelly shrugged it off - saying "Believe it or not - I don't follow the tweets," adding that he has advised White House staff to do the same. "We develop policy in the normal traditional staff way."

As one White House official told the WSJ, despite what appears to be an equilibrium between Kelly and Trump, they may never see eye to eye. “Kelly is too much of a general, and Trump is too much Trump,” adding that Trump continues to hold Mr. Kelly in high regard - often praising him during public appearances. 

Meanwhile in March, Kelly  was reportedly so furious over the way the press was covering Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's Tuesday firing that he shouted at the television on Air Force One as the President and his staff took off for California, according to Politico.

Accounts of Kelly's involvement in Tillerson's ouster have varied. While some reports describe Kelly only telling Tillerson to watch Trump's twitter account "over the next few days," others have said it was a much more direct conversation in which the Secretary of State was given a heads up. In that version, Tillerson implored Kelly to hold off on any decisions until he returned to the U.S. on Monday. 

Tillerson, meanwhile, would only say that he received a "lunchtime call" from Trump during the President's flight to California, and a separate call from Kelly - both after Trump's tweet. 

Kelly's consternation over the press coverage came on the heels of former Trump staff secretary Rob Porter's ouster in February after the Daily Mail published accounts from his two ex-wives accusing him of domestic abuse. Kelly took fire for not getting rid of Porter earler, after it emerged that the FBI had alerted the White House several times in 2017 that the allegations were holding up Porter's security clearance.  When the allegations against Porter began to fly, Kelly put out a statement calling Porter a "man of true integrity and honor," and "a trusted professional." 

With Trump playing musical chairs in the West Wing seemingly every other week, one has to wonder exactly how much longer Kelly will last.