Trump To Fire DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, "Discussing" Kelly Replacement: WSJ

Update (11:30 am ET): That didn't take long.

Hours after the Washington Post published a report claiming that DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's job was in jeopardy, WSJ is reporting that Trump has decided to fire Nielsen, who succeeded John Kelly as head of DHS when he took the chief of staff job.

Apparently, all of Kelly's lobbying on her behalf failed to convince Trump to keep her on.

In a slightly more surprising development, Trump has also decided to remove John Bolton's top deputy, Mira Ricardel, over an unspecified dispute with the first lady.

  • TRUMP HAS DECIDED TO REMOVE HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY NIELSEN - WHITE HOUSE OFFICIALS: DJ
  • TRUMP HAS DECIDED TO REMOVE JOHN BOLTON'S TOP DEPUTY AT NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL OVER DISPUTE WITH FIRST LADY--SOURCES: DJ

Right now, the only thing stopping Trump from firing Nielsen is that he doesn't have a candidate lined up to replace her, per WSJ. Trump is also aware that his decision might lead John Kelly to quit. According to the report, Trump is discussing a replacement for Kelly, who has so far survived several rounds of rumors about his impending dismissal from the administration, only to hang on every time.

The president has decided to replace Ms. Nielsen, but hasn’t finalized the timing, White House officials said, in part because there isn’t an obvious candidate to replace her, officials said. Changes are also being contemplated for the National Security Council.


Trump has told aides that he is aware that forcing out Ms. Nielsen may result in Mr. Kelly quitting, administration officials said. Mr. Trump has told these aides that he is resigned to the possibility of Mr. Kelly leaving, and that he probably will replace Mr. Kelly with Nick Ayers, who is currently chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence.

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Update: According to ABC News, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is also at risk of termination, and may be replaced by Vice President Mike Pence's Chief of Staff Nick Ayers. 

Meanwhile, Kelly's job is also uncertain and his fate has been in question for some time. Sources tell ABC News that within the last few weeks, the president has once again discussed Kelly’s fate with many of his top advisers; Kelly has continued to grow distant with the president, sources said. -ABC

This summer ABC reported that Kelly had agreed to remain chief of staff through 2020, however added that "Trump has expressed significant interest in Ayers with sources describing the 36-year-old as the leading candidate to take over as Trump's chief of staff. Some sources close to the president describe Ayers taking Kelly’s place as a "done deal" while others caution nothing is certain until the president says so."

Ayers has reportedly met with Trump about the job according to multiple sources, while Trump and Ayers reportedly had an extended conversation in the White House the eve of last week's midterms. 

Ayers' role as the right-hand man to Pence over the past year has put him in close proximity during some of the key moments of the Trump presidency. Multiple sources tell ABC News Ayers has also grown close to the president's family, particularly Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, in recent months.

President Trump has also complained about Kelly's lack of political acumen and has praised Ayers for his detailed political strategy for Pence's midterm election efforts. -ABC

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Jeff Sessions has already packed up his things and left the DOJ for the last time, and it's likely that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will be next to go given Trump's well-documented frustrations with Ross's job performance and the percolating scandals surrounding possible ethics violations. 

Nielsen

And to the list of likely Trump administration post-midterm departures, we can now add Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, whom Trump has reportedly decided to remove after months of explosive outbursts over what he has perceived as her "poor performance" on immigration - an issue that Trump sees (with some reason, as the midterms showed) as crucial to his political survival, according to the Washington Post. 

The report surfaced after Trump canceled a planned trip with Nielsen to visit US troops at the border in South Texas earlier this week. Trump reportedly told aides over the weekend that he wants Nielsen out ASAP, though the secretary is desperately trying to hang on until Dec. 6, which would mark her one-year anniversary in the job. Trump, who has complained about Nielsen for months, is looking for a replacement who will do a better job of implementing his immigration agenda.

Notably, a DHS spokesman refused to confirm or deny the report.

DHS officials who work with Nielsen declined to address her potential departure Monday. "The Secretary is honored to lead the men and women of DHS and is committed to implementing the President’s security-focused agenda to protect Americans from all threats and will continue to do so,” spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton said in a statement.

As early as May, reports surfaced suggesting that Nielsen had borne the brunt of President Trump's anger over a rebound in illegal border crossings (after crossings dropped to multiyear lows following Trump's 2016 election). That anger has only intensified by her resistance to Trump's rhetoric about the migrant caravans, as well as his order to send thousands of US troops to the border. Trump has also reportedly berated her during cabinet meetings, criticized her to other administration officials and tagged her as a "Bushie" due to her service in the Bush administration.

Trump became incensed last month when Nielsen tried to explain during the runup to the midterm vote why the president couldn't close the Southern border with Mexico or drastically limit immigration.

But despite her obvious reservations, Nielsen has stood up and defended controversial Trump Administration policies like the administration's "zero tolerance" policy for illegal aliens traveling with children. The border separations triggered widespread outrage toward the administration last spring, and Trump eventually caved and reversed the policy under pressure. However, before he did that, Nielsen stood up and delivered a convincing defense of the administration's measures.

At the peak of controversy over the Trump administration’s "zero tolerance" family-separation initiative, Nielsen nonetheless stood at the White House lectern and delivered a vigorous defense of the measures. The president loved her performance — especially when she said there was no administration policy on separations. Days later, under withering criticism, the president changed his mind and ordered an end to the separations.

But if Nielsen is swept out during Trump's second significant cabinet shakeup, all eyes will turn to Chief of Staff John Kelly, who has long been Nielsen's biggest champion. He has previously stuck his neck out to defend her to the president, and her dismissal will inevitably revive speculation that Kelly's name might also be on Trump's "naughty" list. As WaPo reported, though Kelly has tried his hardest to stop Trump from firing Nielsen, his future in the administration is also "shaky".

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