NEW YORK, Dec 31 (APP):The outgoing White House chief of staff, General (Retd) John Kelly, has defended his rocky tenure in a newspaper interview, saying he wasn’t consulted much before President Donald Trump, soon after his inauguration last year, ordered a ban on travel from several majority-Muslim nations.Before facing legal challenges, the controversial order was announced in January 2017 and banned travel from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya.
Kelly was the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security when Trump first implemented the ban.
“I had very little opportunity to look at” the order before it was issued, Kelly told The Los Angeles Times,
distancing himself from that controversial measure which he defended in the early days of the administration. “Obviously, it brought down a greater deal of thunder on the president,” Kelly said.
Kelly suggested he and others stopped Trump from withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan. (A partial pullout from Afghanistan appears likely, however, following a decision by the president this month, though senior US military officers have said they have received no orders.)
“When I first took over, he was inclined to want to withdraw from Afghanistan,” Kelly said, adding: “He was frustrated. It was a huge decision to make … and frankly there was no system at all for a lot of reasons – palace intrigue and the rest of it – when I got there.”
Kelly also defended those serving Trump as delivering him the right information, even if it might be disregarded.
“It’s never been: The president just wants to make a decision based on no knowledge and ignorance,” Kelly said. “You may not like his decision, but at least he was fully informed on the impact.”
Kelly’s words are not seen as a ringing endorsement of Trump’s decisions; they’re covering for Trump making decisions that officials didn’t like. He’s basically saying, “We tried to tell him!”
Kelly also distanced himself from the separation of families at the US-Mexico border, blaming then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for a zero-tolerance border policy that resulted in the separations, a policy marked by the deaths of two children who were in US custody. As with the travel ban, Kelly suggests he was blindsided.”What happened was Jeff Sessions, he was the one that instituted the zero-tolerance process on the border that resulted in both people being detained and the family separation,” Kelly said. “He surprised us.”
Trump fired Sessions last month over policy differences.
But, political observers said at the core of Kelly’s comments was the same thing: a top Trump administration official suggesting that the political novice in the White House makes decisions with his gut and without much regard for the information that the smart people around him try to give him. “The idea that Kelly regards his biggest success as standing in Trump’s way is a pretty strong indictment of Trump as a person and of his presidency,” according to one observer. “It is also perhaps a warning of what’s to come as Trump is increasingly surrounded by yes-men and -women.”
Asked why he stayed 18 months in the White House, despite policy differences, personality clashes, the punishing schedule, and a likely lasting association with some of Trump’s controversies, he said simply: duty.
“‘Military people,’ he said, ‘don’t walk away.'”
In the interview, Kelly threw cold water on President Trump’s longtime promise to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.
“To be honest, it’s not a wall,” Kelly said. “The president still says ‘wall’ — oftentimes frankly he’ll say ‘barrier’ or ‘fencing,’ now he’s tended toward steel slats. But we left (the idea of) a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it.”
Critics say Kelly, previously lauded for his no-nonsense attitude, failed to rein in Trump’s worst impulses and steadfastly advocated for some of the administration’s most controversial policies, including family separation at the border. But Kelly told the Times that critics should judge his performance in the White House based on what the president did not do while he was at his side.
Asked why he stayed in the role for 18 months, the departing chief of staff responded that “military people don’t walk away.”
Trump announced earlier this month that Kelly would leave his position as his chief of staff at the end of the year.
After making that announcement, Trump seemingly had difficulty finding a replacement.
His top choice, Vice President Pence’s chief of staff Nick Ayers, turned down the job over timing concerns. Multiple other candidates, including Congressman Mark Meadows, a Republican, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, also a Republican, also said publicly that they wouldn’t take the job.
Trump ultimately named Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as his acting chief of staff.