SEA ISLAND, Georgia — John Kelly warned President Trump that hiring a “yes man” to succeed him as White House chief of staff would lead to impeachment and, in hindsight, regrets his decision to resign.
House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into Trump less than a year after Kelly departed the administration. The retired, four-star Marine general suggested the blame lies squarely with acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and other advisers who are unable, or unwilling, to keep the president out of trouble.
Kelly, 69, said he privately cautioned Trump during his final days on the job that he would be impeached if he did not tap a chief of staff with the fortitude to check the president’s bad impulses. Kelly said he does not believe the president would be in this predicament had he stayed.
“I said, 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,” Kelly recalled in an interview at the Sea Island Summit, a political conference hosted by the Washington Examiner.
“That was almost 11 months ago, and I have an awful lot of, to say the least, second thoughts about leaving,” Kelly said. “It pains me to see what’s going on because I believe if I was still there or someone like me was there, he would not be kind of, all over the place.”
The House is expected to vote on articles of impeachment by Christmas, with a trial to follow in the Senate to determine whether Trump should be removed from office. The proceedings were sparked by allegations that the president asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival seeking the Democratic nomination.
Kelly, Trump’s homeland security secretary before being tapped as his second chief of staff, did not validate impeachment or endorse the inquiry. But he indicated that the White House bears some responsibility for the investigation, saying flatly that it was avoidable — contradicting many Trump allies who insist congressional Democrats were going to find any excuse to impeach the president.
“Someone has got to be a guide that tells [the president] that you either have the authority or you don’t, or Mr. President, don’t do it,” Kelly said. “Don’t hire someone that will just nod and say, ‘That’s a great idea Mr. President.’ Because you will be impeached.”
Kelly added, “The system that should be in place, clearly — the system of advising, bringing in experts in, having these discussions with the president so he can make an informed decision, that clearly is not in place. And I feel bad that I left.”