Former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus was interviewed on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” on Friday evening.
Read the transcript:
WOLF BLITZER, CNN’S LEAD POLITICAL ANCHOR AND HOST OF THE SITUATION ROOM: Joining us now is the now I guess former White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus.
Reince, thanks so much for joining us.
REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Hey. How are you, Wolf?
BLITZER: I’m glad you’re joining us from the White House. First of all, I’ve got a lot of questions for you. But how are you doing right now?
PRIEBUS: I’m doing great. I just had a good conversation with General Kelly and the president, and I think you may know I have been obviously talking to the president for a few days about this and ultimately I formally resigned yesterday.
And, you know, the president was great. He wanted to include me in figuring out how and who would be a great successor and a good chief of staff. I think General Kelly is a brilliant pick. I just, like I said, talked to him, talked to the president. We’ll be working on a transition here for a couple of weeks together with General Kelly starting on Monday morning.
So, this isn’t – this is not like a situation where there is a bunch of ill will feelings. This is, I think, good for the president. I think it’s smart for him to pick General Kelly, and I think that things are going to be run very well.
BLITZER: You say you resigned yesterday. Tell us why. Why did you make that important decision to resign?
PRIEBUS: Well, it wasn’t – it was something that I have always talked to the president about, which is – and I have always said to him, and he always agreed with me. Any time either one of us think that we need to make a change or move in a different direction, let’s just talk about it and get it done. And, so, I think the president thought about that and we talked about it yesterday. And I resigned and he accepted my resignation.
But this is about the president. It is about moving his agenda forward. I think he made a smart decision with General Kelly, and I think he’s going to do a great job. And I’m looking forward to the future.
One other thing, I’m always going to be a Trump fan. I’m on Team Trump, and I look forward to helping him achieve his goals and his agenda for the American people.
BLITZER: But why did you resign? I’m still trying to understand. I understand that you told the president you wanted to resign. He accepted your resignation yesterday.
But why? Were there a series of issues? Was there one thing that came up –
PRIEBUS: No, I don’t – listen –
BLITZER: – and you decided, you know what, I no longer can do this?
PRIEBUS: No, look, I think the president wanted to go a different direction. I support him in that. And like I said a couple weeks ago, I said the president has a right to change directions. A president has a right to hit a reset button.
I think it’s a good time to hit the reset button. I think he was right to hit the reset button, and I think it was something that I think the White House needs. I think it’s healthy. And I support him in it.
BLITZER: Was he not happy with the direction you were setting?
PRIEBUS: Well, but, look, I mean, I think bringing in fresh face, I think bringing in fresh people is a good thing. So, look, he has the best political instincts. He’s – hang on a second.
PRIEBUS: He knows, I think, intuitively when things need to change. I’ve seen it now for a year and a half on this wild ride with the president that I loved being a part of. But he intuitively determined that it was time to do something differently. And I think he’s right.
BLITZER: But it’s only been six months, not very long. When you say he wanted to do things differently, tell us precisely what he said to you, why he wants to do things differently and why you concluded that didn’t include you.
PRIEBUS: No, look, I’m not going to get into that personal stuff. The president is a professional, and I’m a professional and professional people don’t discuss private conversations in public.
But what I will tell you is this president has American – the hearts of all Americans at the top of his mind at all times. He wants to do what’s right for the American people. And I think making changes in the White House is common. But I also think they can be very important.
And I think that this is a good appointment for the White House. And I think the general will do a great job.
BLITZER: When was the first inking that you had that your time as the White House chief of staff was over?
PRIEBUS: I’m not going to get into that, Wolf. Look, I have a very close relationship with the president. I’m going to continue to have a close relationship with the president. And out of respect for him, you know, I’m not going to get into our own private conversations.
But I just put out this – I think change is good. He wanted to go a different direction. I support him in that. And I look forward to working with General Kelly over the next couple weeks.
BLITZER: I know you met with your staff, your senior staff earlier this morning before you went up with the president up to Long Island. Did you tell your staff that you were leaving?
PRIEBUS: No. We were doing a business meeting in the morning. Everyone gave their reports, and then we were off to Long Island in New York to talk about MS-13.
BLITZER: What was the impact – the new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, you saw the interview he granted Ryan Lizza in “The New Yorker” magazine. He called you some awful things, including a paranoid schizophrenic and he said your days were numbers. He said you were about to leave.
At one point, he said Reince Priebus would resign soon and that he expected Priebus to launch a campaign against him.
What was your reaction when you saw that interview?
PRIEBUS: No reaction because – I’m not going to respond to it. I’m not going to get into the mud on those sorts of things.
Look, the president and I had an understanding. We’ve talked about this many times. And we ultimately decided that yesterday was a good day and that we would work together. And I think that General Kelly is a great pick.
So, I’m not going to get into the weeds on that. I support what the president did. And obviously I think it’s a good thing for the White House.
BLITZER: But why were you opposed to Anthony Scaramucci even getting a job in the White House? You saw how bitter – bitter he was, how angry he was at you in that interview?
PRIEBUS: I’m not – I’m not getting into that, Wolf. Look, it’s over. I’m moving on. Support the president, and I support John Kelly and the president’s agenda.
So, that’s all you’re going to get from me on that. I’m not going to get into the individual personal stuff.
BLITZER: He was also very angry at Steve Bannon, the White House chief strategist. I can’t even read the words he uttered to Ryan Lizza about Steve Bannon. But do you think he could stay in the White House with Scaramucci now the communications director?
PRIEBUS: That’s going to be up to John Kelly. But I will say that Steve is doing a great job. He is a brilliant guy who only cares about the president’s agenda. He thinks about it 24 hours a day. Never quits.
He’s a great asset to this president. And, so – and a dear friend. My hat is off to Steve Bannon.
BLITZER: Can you just clear up the other charge? It was a very bitter charge that Scaramucci leveled against you, that you are a leaker and that you’re really not that loyal to the president. You’ve got your own agenda. He made some bitter accusations against you, specifically the leaking.
Are you the leaker in the White House?
PRIEBUS: That’s ridiculous, Wolf. Come on. Give me a break. I’m not going to get into his acquisitions –
BLITZER: Why not? Why not respond to him?
PRIEBUS: Because I’m not going to because it doesn’t honor the president. I’m going to honor the president every day. I’m going to honor his agenda and I’m going to honor our country, and I’m not going to get into all of this personal stuff. So –
BLITZER: Is there a leaking problem in the White House based on what you’ve seen?
PRIEBUS: Yes, I think that General Kelly should see if he could get to the bottom of it and figure it out. But obviously unnamed sources are something that’s been problematic and I wish him well and I’m going to try to help him. But obviously that’s going to be on his plate and I hope he can get to the bottom of it.
BLITZER: Because Scaramucci is suggesting the FBI should get involved in that investigation. Do you agree with him on that?
PRIEBUS: I’m not going to respond to that. Look, this is about the president, Wolf. I have answered your questions. I support his decision to hire John Kelly, and I’m looking forward to the future.
BLITZER: What is – what is your future? I want to get to that, but I also want to get your specific advice for John Kelly, who is the incoming White House chief of staff.
PRIEBUS: Well, look, God is good and everything works to good in the end. I believe that. I’m not worried about that. I care about my wife and my kids. That’s what I care about most. And that’s what I live for.
So I live for God, my family, my kids, and I know everything is going to be just fine.
And as far as John Kelly, he’s going to be great. Keeping things organized, keeping everyone in their lane, controlling – controlling flow of information in and out of the Oval Office, those are all challenges to a chief of staff. And I think he’s going to do a wonderful job.
BLITZER: I know you must be very disappointed. You really wanted to see repeal and replace of Obamacare.
BLITZER: You are going out now without having succeed in that. We all saw what happened overnight. How disappointing is that to you?
PRIEBUS: Well, it is disappointing, but I don’t think it’s over yet, Wolf. So, I’m hopeful that the Republicans can still come together before reconciliation is over and I wish them well to do it and I’ll be a part of trying to help make that happen if I can. And again, I’ll always be on the team.
BLITZER: What about the criticism that the president has leveled against the attorney general of the United States, Jeff sessions? How uncomfortable did that make you?
PRIEBUS: Look, you know, Jeff is a great guy. But the president is disappointed, and I’m not going to get into that one either.
So, I’m only here to tell you that it’s been a great privilege to be chief of staff. I support the president in choosing John Kelly and I wish him well and I wish everyone in the West Wing all of God’s blessings.
BLITZER: What’s your proudest accomplishment over these past six months as the White House chief of staff?
PRIEBUS: I think getting everyone together. I think that moving this West Wing I think in the right direction. I think obviously, accomplishing all of the executive orders, the TPP, the V.A. accomplishments, the things that the president talks about all the time. The most bills in six months, the executive orders, the agenda of this president. It’s something that I think everyone can be proud of.
BLITZER: What’s your biggest disappointment?
PRIEBUS: Well, look, I mean, I wish health care would have passed, but I don’t think it’s over yet, Wolf. I think we could still get there.
BLITZER: Well, talk a little bit about that. How do you get there? Because you don’t have the votes. It’s 52-48 majority, the Republicans have in the Senate. Clearly not enough.
PRIEBUS: Well, they’ve got – they have to keep working, Wolf. I mean, they have to roll up their sleeves and keep working. They have to come up with another amendment. I think that Lindsey Graham has got an amendment. I think they have to work on Lisa Murkowski and see if we can get her on the right side of the health care debate.
I don’t think this is over. I think they can get this done and obviously coming together as a party is something that I think we’ve had too much difficulty doing and having a governing majority is something that’s been problematic. You can have a majority, but if you don’t have a governing majority, you can’t get things done.
BLITZER: Why not work with the Democrats and come up with a compromised work with some moderate Democrats, work to try to fix, improve the problems of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare and not necessarily completely repeal it?
PRIEBUS: Look, I don’t think the Democrats want to work with us on anything.
BLITZER: They say they want to work with you.
PRIEBUS: They spend – right, and you look at the delays of the cabinet appointments, you look at all of the delays of the nominations, they’re debating our cabinet secretaries for 30 hours and then voting for them 90-10. This is not a party – and unfortunately, Senator Schumer hasn’t been the type of leader to want to compromise on the most basic things.
And so, I think the idea that somehow Democrats are going to just come together and give us a few votes on something here or there I think it’s fantasy.
Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s important to try. So, I’ll give you that. But, obviously – obviously, the Republicans have to try harder.
BLITZER: I want to be very fair to you, Reince. You and I have known each other for a long time. I just want to be clear for our viewers. Did the president formally ask you to resign?
PRIEBUS: No. I resigned and he accepted it.
BLITZER: And that conversation was just simply like that? He didn’t try to talk you out of it?
PRIEBUS: We talked about it. You know, we – you’re confusing something. We talk all the time about this subject. Anytime – anytime we want to go a different direction, either one of us, we talk about it.
So, look, he deserves credit for all of these accomplishments that he’s had over the last six months. I don’t think anyone realizes how much he’s gotten done. I support him in making sure that the American people see and realize the work that he’s done.
I think we could do better here in making sure that people realize that and see it. He deserves it. He’s been a great president and I look forward to continuing to help him.
BLITZER: I just want to be precise to you. You spoke often with the president about possibly resigning?
PRIEBUS: No. We just talk about the fact that both of us – both of us have to be happy with where we’re at and he obviously wanted to make a change and I offered my resignation and he agreed and we moved on. He accepted it.
BLITZER: And that was that. And did you recommend John Kelly or did he throw out that name to you?
PRIEBUS: No. We talked about a few different people together, and he thought John Kelly would be the number one pick. I thought it was a fantastic choice. I look forward to working with him.
BLITZER: So what about next for you? I remember there was some speculation you might become ambassador to Greece or something along those lines. Any consideration of that? Any thought of that
PRIEBUS: No. That’s not going to happen. I think I’m going to take a little vacation, spend some time with my wife and kids and enjoy the future and continue to be supportive.
BLITZER: Last question to you as we go forward. And you have been very, very kind and you’re very generous in spending some time with this first interview. Was there one favorite moment that you want to look back on on these last six months that will always stay with you and be reflective of your time as the White House chief of staff?
PRIEBUS: Well, look, you know, quite frankly, the first day we walked in to the West Wing on business and we walked into the Oval Office and we signed the first executive order and just walking in that door and just feeling the majesty of the Oval Office and seeing the president sit at his desk and sign that document, it’s a feeling that first feeling, that first raw feeling that you get that’s so special.
It was a privilege. It was an honor. And I look forward to continuing to help.
BLITZER: Reince Priebus, the now former White House – soon to be former White House chief of staff. Thanks so much for joining us. You’re always welcome to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
PRIEBUS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Reince Priebus. Appreciate it very much.