Reports Claim Trump Eyes Replacement for John Kelly as Chief of Staff Over His Handling of Rob Porter
Citing anonymous sources, several media outlets are reporting that White House chief of staff John Kelly’s seven month tenure may be in jeopardy due to his handling of the security clearance of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter.
“President Donald Trump, furious over the handling of domestic abuse allegations involving one of his closest aides, has spoken to confidantes about the possibility of replacing embattled Chief of Staff John Kelly, sources close to the president tell ABC News,” ABC News reported late Friday:
One confidante — longtime friend and former executive chairman of his inaugural committee, Tom Barrack — was approached to gauge his interest in the chief of staff position, a source familiar with the matter told ABC News. Barrack said he won’t take the job, the source said.
Kelly has made clear to the president in the last 24 hours that he’s willing to resign in light of the president’s dissatisfaction over the West Wing’s handling of the allegations against former Staff Secretary Rob Porter, according to sources who have spoken with Trump and Kelly.
Porter resigned on Wednesday after news broke that his two ex-wives claimed he had abused them. One of his ex-wives obtained a restraining order against him in 2010.
In his letter of resignation, Porter vigorously denied the allegations of abuse:
These outrageous allegations are simply false. I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described. I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.
At least one unconfirmed report claimed the FBI had informed Kelly that Porter would never receive a security clearance several weeks ago and that Kelly had failed to inform President Trump of this fact.
Multiple outlets are reporting, again based on anonymous sources, that President Trump is unhappy with Kelly over his handling of the Porter matter, and is considering replacing Kelly with, among others, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), or former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Politico reported on Thursday that “White House chief of staff John Kelly was told several weeks ago that the FBI would recommend denying full security clearances to multiple White House aides who had been working in the West Wing on interim security clearances.”
Those aides, according to a senior administration official, included former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who left the White House on Thursday after reports that he physically and verbally abused his two ex-wives.
The White House chief-of-staff told confidants in recent weeks that he had decided to fire anyone who had been denied a clearance — but had yet to act on that plan before the Porter allegations were first reported this week.
Kelly’s inaction has produced what may be the deepest crisis of his seven months on the job, unleashing a cascade of questions about whether Trump – who was accused by multiple women during the 2016 campaign of sexual impropriety – and his closest advisers take violence against women seriously at a time when the #MeToo movement has called other politicians, media moguls and entertainment icons to account.
“What we’re hearing: Nobody pressured him to resign, per multiple officials. A White House official said senior officials were trying to convince Porter “to stay and fight.” Those officials included Chief of Staff John Kelly,” Axios reported on Wednesday after Porter’s resignation.
Of concern for Kelly is whether his handling of the Porter matter has lessened President Trump’s confidence in him.
If Kelly knew of the allegations of abuse by Porter, and if it is true that the FBI has determined Porter will never receive a security clearance and further true that Kelly was made aware of that fact weeks ago but failed to make the president aware of it as well, Kelly may have reason to be concerned that the president may have lost confidence in him.
At the moment, however, there are only rumors and speculations about the answers to all those questions, and no one who knows the answers is willing to go on the record to set the record straight.
“Asked specifically if Kelly knew before Tuesday night about some of the domestic abuse allegations against Porter, [White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj] Shah repeated that he would not get into the ‘specifics of what may have emerged from the investigation,’ ” Breitbart News reported on Thursday.
The matter is further complicated by reports that Porter has a personal relationship with White House director of communications Hope Hicks.