President Donald Trump is disputing that former White House chief of staff John Kelly warned the President before he left the White House last year not to hire a replacement who wouldn’t tell him the truth or that he would be impeached.
Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, made the comments during an interview at the Sea Island Summit political conference hosted by the Washington Examiner this weekend.
Kelly said if he had stayed on as chief of staff Trump wouldn’t be in the midst of the current impeachment inquiry, implying that White House advisers could have prevented it.
“I said, whatever you do — and we were still in the process of trying to find someone to take my place — I said whatever you do, don’t hire a ‘yes man,’ someone who won’t tell you the truth — don’t do that,” Kelly said. “Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached.”
Kelly’s comments come after his successor, now acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, brashly confirmed and then denied earlier this month that Trump froze nearly $400 million in US security aid to Ukraine in part to pressure that country into investigating Democrats.
Trump weighed in Saturday on Kelly’s interview with the Washington Examiner, saying in a statement to CNN, “John Kelly never said that, he never said anything like that. If he would have said that I would have thrown him out of the office. He just wants to come back into the action like everybody else does.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham added, “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President.”
Mulvaney did not immediately respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
Kelly also suggested that the Trump administration could have averted the current probe into the president, the Examiner reported.
“Someone has got to be a guide that tells [the president] that you either have the authority or you don’t, or Mr. President, don’t do it,” Kelly said, adding that “the system that should be in place, clearly — the system of advising, bringing in experts in, having these discussions with the president so he can make an informed decision, that clearly is not in place.”
Kelly also said that in light of the inquiry, “I feel bad that I left.”
“That was almost 11 months ago, and I have an awful lot of, to say the least, second thoughts about leaving,” he added. “It pains me to see what’s going on because I believe if I was still there or someone like me was there, he would not be kind of, all over the place.”
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond, Kevin Liptak and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.