WASHINGTON — White House chief of staff John Kelly has eroded morale in the West Wing in recent months with comments to aides that include insulting the president’s intelligence and casting himself as the savior of the country, according to eight current and former White House officials.
The officials said Kelly portrays himself to Trump administration aides as the lone bulwark against catastrophe, curbing the erratic urges of a president who has a questionable grasp on policy issues and the functions of government. He has referred to Trump as “an idiot” multiple times to underscore his point, according to four officials who say they’ve witnessed the comments.
Kelly called the allegations “total BS.”
“I spend more time with the president than anyone else and we have an incredibly candid and strong relationship,” said Kelly in a statement. “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.”
Three White House spokespeople said they don’t believe it’s accurate that Kelly called the president an “idiot,” adding that none of them has ever heard him do that or otherwise use that word.
Watch Kristen Welker on Nightly News with Lester Holt for more
Officials said Kelly’s public image as a retired four-star general instilling discipline on a chaotic White House and an impulsive president belies what they describe as the undisciplined and indiscreet approach he’s employed as chief of staff. The private manner aides describe may shed new light on why Kelly now finds himself — just nine months into the job — grappling with diminished influence and a drumbeat of questions about how long he’ll remain at the White House.
Trump, who aides said has soured on his second chief of staff, is aware of some though not all of Kelly’s comments, according to the current and former officials.
The White House spokespeople said they haven’t heard Kelly talk about himself as the one saving the country, and that if anything he may have spoken in jest along those lines.
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss said Kelly’s comments about Trump, when compared to previous White House chiefs of staff, “suggest a lack of respect for the sitting president of a kind that we haven’t seen before.” Beschloss said the closest similarity would be President Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff during his second term, Don Regan, who “somewhat looked down on” his boss and eventually lost the support of the staff and the president. Regan was replaced after two years by Howard Baker.
The last time it became public that one of Trump’s top advisers insulted his intelligence behind his back, it didn’t go over well with the president. White House aides have said Trump never got over former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling him a “moron” in front of colleagues, which was first reported by NBC News. Trump later challenged Tillerson to an IQ test and fired him several months after the remark became public.
Understand that someone hates this man so much they are willing to open up with this info.