President Trump’s chief of staff is under fire for his handling of abuse allegations against former White House staff secretary Rob Porter. Critics are now questioning John Kelly’s credibility, and his ability to tell the truth, after shifting explanations on what Kelly knew about those abuse allegations.
On Point guest host Jane Clayson was joined by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today; Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief at the Washington Post; Gabriel Sherman, Vanity Fair special correspondent; and Chris Whipple, author of the New York Times best-seller "The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency," to discuss the Kelly debacle on Monday.
Whipple, who interviewed all living chiefs of staff for his book, described Kelly’s tenure as one of historical ineptitude.
“We used to say that Don Regan, Ronald Reagan's second White House chief of staff, had a lock on the title 'Worst Chief of Staff in Modern History.' I think John Kelly’s giving him a run for the title.”
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On how John Kelly is doing as chief of staff:
Chris Whipple: “The White House chief of staff has to be the person who can walk into the office, close the door, and tell the president what he doesn’t want to hear. Kelly has failed that test time and time again and in other ways as well.
“Kelly’s been completely politically inept. He doubles down on all of Trump’s worst instincts. He’s not been a guy who’s helped him to govern.”
On why the Rob Porter scandal is an issue now:
Philip Rucker: “The White House covered it up, they just didn’t act on it. [White House Counsel Don] McGahn knew this information, Kelly reportedly knew this information and they chose not to take action. I think in part because Rob Porter was seen as such an integral part of the White House operation. He was one of the few professionals there with government experience. He was Kelly’s eyes and ears and effectively his deputy in trying to instill order and manage the access of information to the president and so Kelly viewed him as integral and didn’t want to create a problem.”
On how big of a deal this really is:
Gabriel Sherman: “This really is a big, major scandal. We sometimes get inured and numbed to the scandals coming out of the Trump White House, but this one is particularly explosive. Rob Porter handled the country’s most sensitive security secrets as staff secretary. And as his ex-wives testified to the FBI in is background check, they believed he was at risk of being blackmailed because of these abuse allegations and the potential for them to come out. And the fact that John Kelly knew this for months and knew that his security clearance was being held up and didn’t take action and didn't fully brief the president until it appeared that this story was going to become public, to me is a sign of grave misjudgment."
On the optics of the White House’s stance on women:
Susan Page: “I think it’s clear that the chief of staff, General Kelly, did not have good political instincts when it comes to the importance of the issue of violence against women. He did not take it seriously enough.”
On President Trump’s tweets that “People’s lives are being shattered and destroyed…”
Susan Page: “What was distressing to even some of the president’s allies was that he was expressing concern about the men accused of abuse and not expressing concern about the women who said they were victimized by them.”
On whether anyone can do this job:
Gabriel Sherman: “Unfortunately one of the problems with Donald Trump is, no matter what record you bring to the job...you invariably will end up worse off.”