Former White House chief of staff John Kelly publicly stated this week that he warned President Donald Trump that, if he replaced him with a yes man, he could well end up impeached. I found Kelly’s discussion of the confidential conversation with Trump to be deeply troubling. I believe a president has a right to confidential communications. However, I was not concerned with the response of White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham who declared, “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President.” Since Kelly was warning about the danger of surrounding oneself with sycophants, the response was chillingly ironic. Indeed, I considered at first whether this was meant as an ironic joke. It is difficult to tell which is precisely the problem. The President has repeatedly referred to himself as “stable genius” so this is repeating his own self-appraisal.
In a Sea Island Summit political conference hosted by the Washington Examiner, Kelly told a crowd that, before his departure, he told Trump “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.”
I have difficulty with former staff revealing such conversations with a sitting president. Trump immediately denied the statement was ever made: “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.”
I do not blame Trump with being upset with former staffers sharing such stories. The media has legitimately noted that Trump has repeatedly claimed that accounts from former cabinet members and staff are lies. Such a dispute is unlikely to be resolved in a one-on-one meeting. However, Grisham seemed to go out of her way to undermine Trump and reinforce Kelly with her fawning declaration.
Once again, I fail to see any evidence of strategy in such controversies. The statement from Grisham could not have been worse at that moment. It reinforces the fear of Republicans, particularly in the Senate, that there is no coherent or consistent message coming out of the White House. Faced with a claim that Trump is surrounded by sycophants, Grisham rushed forward to give a Dear Leader profession of loyalty. It only magnified Kelly’s suggestion that no one remains in the White House to offer detached and independent views. If so, that is every bit as dangerous as Kelly suggested.