It was also NBC that reported months ago that Rex Tillerson had called Trump a “moron” at a meeting with natsec officials, you may remember. They own the “cabinet members insulting POTUS in the nastiest terms” beat.
One of the most interesting details is how many sources NBC claims for the story — no fewer than eight current or former White House officials. A gang-stabbing, and it’s not even the Ides of March!
In one heated exchange between the two men before February’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, Kelly strongly — and successfully — dissuaded Trump from ordering the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula, according to two officials.
For Kelly, the exchange underscored the reasoning behind one of his common refrains, which multiple officials described as some version of “I’m the one saving the country.”
Pulling American troops out of South Korea? Please. That would have signaled weakness, maybe even inviting an attack on the South from the North. It would have traded away one of America’s best bargaining chips in squeezing Kim Jong Un on denuclearization, the possibility of a reduced American presence on the peninsula, for nothing. And it would have panicked U.S. allies across the world, starting with Japan. It’s preposterous. It makes no sense. It’s … totally plausible that Trump wanted to do it, yeah. It was just six weeks ago that he hinted at the idea publicly, in fact, to put pressure on South Korea on a trade deal. He’s squeezing the wrong Korea.
Here’s the part that will really sting POTUS, though. It’s not the “idiot” insult. It’s the intimation of weakness on his core issue:
[Kelly] often used [meetings on immigration with other White House officials] to express concern that Trump would agree to a deal that’s not hardline enough on immigration and criticized the president’s knowledge of the issues to underscore his point, the officials said.
“He doesn’t even understand what DACA is. He’s an idiot,” Kelly said in one meeting, according to two officials who were present. “We’ve got to save him from himself.”
It’ll be funny watching Trump fans get indignant at the idea that he’s too quick to make concessions on immigration after Ann Coulter and other populists tore him apart last month for not getting wall funding in that giant garbage spending bill he signed. You’ve seen with your own eyes how eager he is to make Democrats happy on this subject! The guy put citizenship for nearly two million DREAMers on the table as part of a grand bargain with Schumer and Pelosi. It’s no secret either that Kelly feels he’s too soft and ignorant on this subject. Remember when he went on Fox News back in January and told Bret Baier that Trump wasn’t “fully informed” on certain immigration issues during the campaign, which reportedly pissed off POTUS to no end?
And not only isn’t “we’ve got to save him from himself” a secret, it seems to be almost the motto of the Trump cabinet. Reports have been floating around for a year about weird “pacts” between deputies to try to keep Trump from doing anything too nutty. Mattis and Kelly (when he was at DHS) supposedly agreed early on, in the wake of the initial travel ban fiasco, that one of them should be in the country at all times to help put out any fires that he might set. Bob Corker singled out the two of them and Rex Tillerson last fall for praise in saying that they’re helping protect the country from “chaos.” The NYT claimed in January that Trump told Don McGahn last year that it was time to fire Mueller and McGahn threatened to quit unless Trump changed his mind. The legend of heroic aides disarming down the loose cannon before he goes off has been part of media lore about the Trump White House since day one. Rightly or wrongly, it wouldn’t be weird if Kelly had bought into it.
Read the piece, as there’s much more. Trump was allegedly annoyed that when he asked Kelly for recommendations on the new DHS chief, he was given only two choices: Kris Kobach, who was shortlisted at his own insistence, and Kelly deputy Kirstjen Nielsen. Because Kobach was supposedly unconfirmable, Nielsen was the pick almost by default. Having his deputies withhold information from him in order to steer him towards their own preferences isn’t an unusual problem for POTUS. That was also a source of tension between H.R. McMaster, who thought Trump should be given a full and candid menu of military options, and Mattis, who’s said to be more “selective” in which choices he presents Trump with.
One more bit. It’d be ironic if this is what ultimately sunk Kelly:
Current and former White House officials said Kelly has at times made remarks that have rattled female staffers. Kelly has told aides multiple times that women are more emotional than men, including at least once in front of the president, four current and former officials said.
And during a firestorm in February over accusations of domestic abuse against then-White House staff secretary Rob Porter, Kelly wondered aloud how much more Porter would have to endure before his honor could be restored, according to three officials who were present for the comments. He also questioned why Porter’s ex-wives wouldn’t just move on based on the information he said he had about his marriages, the officials said.
He also allegedly scolds people for cursing in front of women staffers. An aging Marine, less than fully progressive on gender issues: Who knew?
One point about all this. With Tillerson and Kelly accused of badmouthing him in unusually disrespectful ways, Trump’s desire to fill all vacancies with yes-men can only grow. That’s the irony of Kelly’s saving-the-world shtick. Talking smack about the boss isn’t just insubordinate and bad for morale, it’s going to feed Trump’s siege mentality and make him more prone to staffing up with people who may not be top caliber in terms of capabilities but will at least pay him the courtesy of not calling him an imbecile when he leaves the room. You want Corey Lewandowski as chief of staff? Because that’s how you get Corey Lewandowski as chief of staff. If you’re going to work for Trump as a matter of national duty, part of the duty is to be a respectful employee no matter how hard that is.
Kelly, by the way, says the story is “total BS.” What else could he say? Exit quotation: