Wait, does his regret that Trump is being impeached mean that he’s not “Anonymous”?
Because if so, that means I’m down to Kellyanne Conway in my picks of who the mystery “Resistance” official inside Trump’s administration is.
Anyway, I can see it both ways on this. On Earth 2, where John Kelly is still chief of staff as of September 2019, does Trump still end up in a mess over Ukraine?
“I said [to Trump before I left], 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.”…
“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.”
It makes me laugh to think of Kelly warning Trump, of all people, not to bring in a yes-man, especially given how the president chafed at Kelly’s attempts to impose “discipline” on the West Wing. Really the entire story of the last year to 18 months of Trump’s presidency is him shedding the “adults in the room” around him as he grew more comfortable on the job. He brought in Mick Mulvaney to replace Kelly; he farmed out Ukraine diplomacy to his lawyer, Rudy, and Rudy’s cronies; he keeps promoting “acting” directors whenever cabinet vacancies open up, precisely because they’re apt to be more deferential to him. The Kelly era is probably best understood as a transitional period during which Trump learned the ropes of being president and gained enough confidence in the position to begin surrounding himself with yes-men exclusively.
But I digress. What’s happening on Earth 2 right now? Is it possible that John Kelly somehow snuffed out the Ukraine quid pro quo before it got going? I think it is. After all, Mulvaney was part of the Ukraine process. He knew enough about what was going on to have known that Trump wanted to make Ukraine’s military aid contingent upon the Ukrainians investigating CrowdStrike. The NYT reported a few days ago that when the Ukrainians finally figured out in August that the aid had been delayed, they were told to reach out to Mulvaney. Certainly it’s conceivable that had John Kelly been in the middle of this, he would have screamed at Trump that the quid pro quo was potentially an impeachable offense and convinced him to scrap the idea.
But I can also imagine the whole thing playing out on Earth 2 pretty much as it did here, with Kelly in DGAF mode the entire time. Let me remind you of this famous passage from a Politico story published in June 2018 about just how far Kelly’s relationship with Trump had deteriorated as his time on the job wore on:
But Kelly’s status in the White House has changed in recent months, and he and the president are now seen as barely tolerating one another. According to four people close to Kelly, the former Marine general has largely yielded his role as the enforcer in the West Wing as his relationship with Trump has soured. While Kelly himself once believed he stood between Trump and chaos, he has told at least one person close to him that he may as well let the president do what he wants, even if it leads to impeachment — at least this chapter of American history would come to a close.
In recent months, his Secret Service detail has often been spotted standing outside the gym in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the middle of the day — and White House officials who pass it on the way to meetings view his late morning workouts as an indication of him having thrown in the towel on trying to have any control inside the West Wing.
Kelly may have ended up in roughly the same position as John Bolton on the Ukraine matter, a marginalized advisor who had some awareness of what was going on, was disgusted by it, but who was sufficiently alienated from Trump by that point that he doesn’t seem to have done much of anything to try to stop it. After you’ve warned a pyromaniac for the thousandth time not to play with matches and you still catch him doing it, you’ll give up. Either he needs the experience of being burned to teach him a lesson, you’ll tell yourself, or he’ll never learn his lesson and will burn the house down eventually, in which case he might as well get on with it. That’s where Kelly was as of summer 2018, allegedly. Why would his mood in fall 2019 be any different?
The real takeaway from Kelly’s comments today is that Trump is likely to become more reckless over time, not less. *Maybe* he’ll rein it in a bit next year with the election approaching, just because a scandal that breaks soon before Election Day could destroy his chances at reelection. But if the electorate validates him at the polls by handing him a second term, and suddenly he has four more years in office with no accountability to anyone, it’ll be nothing but yes-men at every post. Mulvaney will come to be seen as a model of discipline in hindsight once Hannity or whoever is chief of staff.