On Saturday, former White House chief of staff John Kelly told a conservative audience about this piece of advice he gave President Donald Trump before leaving his job:
“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. Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached.”
Kelly’s comments drew a decent amount of attention right after he made them – at a conference in Sea Island, Georgia sponsored by the Washington Examiner – but got lost the second Trump tweeted “something very big has just happened!” just before 9:30 p.m. ET Saturday night. That tweet – and Trump’s subsequent Sunday morning announcement that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was dead – overwhelmed all other news.
But we shouldn’t let the constant churn of covering Trump roll right over what Kelly said and why it’s both telling and damning about this President. (Worth noting: Trump denied that Kelly had told him any such thing; “If he would have said that I would have thrown him out of the office,” Trump said in a statement. “He just wants to come back into the action like everybody else does.”)
Consider carefully exactly what Kelly is saying here: If the President of the United States is allowed to do what he wants, he will act in ways that will lead to his impeachment.
Which is remarkable! And terrifying! And potentially accurate!
Following Kelly’s departure, Trump named a loyalist – Mick Mulvaney – to the chief of staff post. Mulvaney, by his own admission, allowed Trump to be Trump – with all the good and bad that comes with it. That includes Trump’s coordinated pressure campaign against the Ukrainians – run by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani – to force that government to look into debunked allegations regarding Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. House Democrats are currently conducting an impeachment investigation to determine whether the President abused his office for personal, political gain.
Yes, Kelly’s comments are incredibly self-serving. He is essentially saying “I told you so!” when it comes to Trump’s behavior and what would come from it. But ask yourself this: why would Kelly lie about his observations about the President? He’s no Democrat and, unlike scorned former Trumpers like Michael Cohen and Anthony Scaramucci, hasn’t spent his time after falling out of favor with the White House savaging the President.
Kelly is a highly decorated Marine with a distinguished record of serving the country for the bulk of his adult life. Would he really risk all of that by making up lies about his conversations with the President? Seems unlikely. Especially when you consider that Trump, who is saying Kelly never said anything like this, has said more than 12,000 false or misleading things since coming into office in 2017.
What’s more important to consider is that someone who spent lots and lots of time with Trump – and who has, throughout his life, interacted with leaders of all stripes – believed that if left to his own devices, the President would commit an impeachable act.
There’s nothing more damning than a judgment like this one coming from someone who knows Trump well and has seen how the President goes about the day-to-day elements of the job. In short: When someone who has lived the life – and done the jobs – Kelly has, we would all do well to listen to him when he offers an opinion on the character of this President.