Donald Trump is not considering nominating chief of staff John Kelly, a retired Marine, for the top job at the embattled Department of Veterans’ Affairs, says the president’s top spokeswoman.
A day after a report surfaced, citing eight former or current White House staffers, that Kelly once called Trump an “idiot” and has frequently questioned the chief executive’s intelligence in front of other staffers. The White House pushed back against the NBC News report with force, with Kelly calling it “total BS” in a statement released shortly after the article was published online.
“I spend more time with the president than anyone else and we have an incredibly candid and strong relationship,” Kelly said Monday. “He always knows where I stand and he and I both know this story is total BS. I am committed to the president, his agenda, and our country. This is another pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump and distract from the administration’s many successes.”
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders a day later denied speculation that Trump might shift Kelly, a former Homeland Security secretary and U.S. Southern Command chief, to the corner office at Veterans’ Affairs.
Trump’s last nominee, his former military doctor Navy Adm. Ronny Jackson, withdrew his nomination for the job over questions about his qualifications and allegations regarding work-hours drinking, a crashed government automobile, handing out prescription medication too freely, and creating a hostile work environment.
Asked specifically about the report about Kelly’s alleged disparaging remarks about the president, Sanders told reporters Trump is “very happy” with Kelly’s performance running the White House staff.
Two hours after the 5 p.m. White House statement from Kelly, the president issued his own — on Twitter. The White House is “running very smoothly,” while the “Fake News is going ‘bonkers!’”, he wrote.
However, the president did not defend Kelly by name.
The White House is running very smoothly despite phony Witch Hunts etc. There is great Energy and unending Stamina, both necessary to get things done. We are accomplishing the unthinkable and setting positive records while doing so! Fake News is going “bonkers!”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 30, 2018
Sanders’ Tuesday briefing wasn’t all about the ongoing drama inside the West Wing. She also addressed a second round of 30-day waivers to Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs given to Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, the European Union and Mexico and the ongoing U.S. operation in Afghanistan:
- Sanders would not say definitively whether new 30-day waivers President Trump gave several U.S. allies from his steel and aluminum tariffs would be the final ones for those nations. She would only say the administration wants to wrap up negotiations with those countries during that span.
- There is “no change” in the Trump administration’s Afghanistan strategy despite Sen. Rand Paul’s claim President Trump during a private conversation signaled to the Kentucky Republican that he plans to bring home all U.S. troops operating there, Sanders said.
- And, earlier in the day, the president himself made some small foreign policy news: The president again said he might attend the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, and told reporters an announcement on the date and location of his possible summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un should be coming in a “couple of days.”