The most basic part of being a good general, I’d imagine, is being able to identify and exploit an enemy’s weakness. Know what he fears. Understand how he operates.

John Kelly knows that Trump fears embarrassment, especially severe embarrassment that might damage his reelection chances. And he recognizes that Trump appreciates blackmail, a tactic the president hinted at in the Republican primaries to try to quiet criticism from his rivals and which his friends at the National Enquirer are expert at.

So if Kelly were eager to keep Trump off his back, his tactics would be straightforward: Threaten to dump everything he knows about POTUS in a bestselling book before the election — unless Trump maintains a respectful silence about Kelly.

Sounds like it worked, if you believe CNN’s sources.

[B]efore Kelly could leave, Trump asked the retired four-star general the question that often consumes him when a top aide leaves his side on bad terms: Did he plan to write a tell-all book about his time in the White House?

Kelly assured Trump in one of their final Oval Office meetings that while he did plan to eventually write about his tumultuous tenure in the White House for history’s sake, he wouldn’t publish a book until after Trump was gone, two sources briefed on the conversation said. But the former general’s guarantee came in terms more reminiscent of a military ceasefire than an employee separation agreement: Kelly told Trump he would hold his fire as long as Trump didn’t attack him first.

A source close to Kelly said the exchange was amicable and not contentious. Neither Kelly nor the White House responded to CNN’s request for comment.

Would Kelly really deprive himself of a massive payday by withholding a tell-all, knowing that public interest in his product will gradually decline? A book published before the election would generate maximum buzz since the information in it could be weaponized to try to defeat Trump. A book published during Trump’s second term would be of significant interest since it would, after all, contain dirt about a sitting president and might get Democrats sniffing around the idea of impeachment again. A book published the day after Trump leaves office would be … interesting in a “can you believe this guy was president?” way, but all of its value as a potential weapon would have been lost.

Kelly would be leaving a lot of dough on the table, potentially for as long as another five years. He’s already 69 years old; his ability to enjoy his royalties via travel and so on might be seriously degraded by the time he’s 74. But he’s willing to accept that delay because … he’s afraid Trump will tweet about him?

In other words, four-star Marine John Kelly, who may have info that could alter the 2020 election, is less inclined to brave the sh*tposter-in-chief’s wrath than Omarosa was?

James Mattis has taken heat all week from anti-Trumpers for his conspicuous refusal to criticize Trump, even just to say whether he deems Trump fit for office or not. Mattis has at least been willing to indulge in thinly veiled shots at the president, though. Kelly, it seems, is prepared to dodge the question of Trump’s fitness altogether out of fear of nothing worse than some Twitter flak — a platform Kelly isn’t even on (as far as we know). I wonder if the real reason he and Mattis are reluctant to come after Trump is that they know POTUS still has lots of fans in the Corps and they don’t want Marines to feel any sort of divided loyalty in choosing whom to support. That would explain Kelly’s interest in waiting until Trump is out of office, when there’s no longer any inkling of dereliction of duty by undermining the commander-in-chief.

His alleged arrangement with Trump leads me to assume at this point that any former aide about whom POTUS has nice things to say is privately blackmailing him or at least a serious threat to do so. That would explain Trump’s curiously warm words recently about Madeleine Westerhout, who reportedly went way over the line by gossiping about how little Trump thinks of his daughter Tiffany. For anyone else, that would have earned a Twitter tirade to end all tirades. For Westerhout, who stands to earn millions by leveraging what she knows, it earned a few surprisingly gracious words plus a behind-the-scenes effort to find her a new job, per CNN:

Trump, who was fuming after reports that Westerhout had bad-mouthed him and his family, only accepted the phone call and apology after several aides encouraged him to allow Westerhout to make amends, a senior Trump adviser said.

“Do we really want her as an enemy? No, we don’t,” the adviser said.

Trump aides said an effort was now underway to find a soft landing for Westerhout, who also served as director of Oval Office operations. It was not yet clear where she would land, but the effort fit a pattern by White House officials, campaign aides and others in Trump’s orbit to ensure that senior White House officials and others close to the President are taken care of after they leave the building.

The surest way to get Westerhout to cash in is to make her desperate for money. Getting her a new job solves that problem. They tried to do the same thing with Omarosa, remember, with Lara Trump all but offering a trade of a position on the Trump campaign in exchange for Omarosa’s silence.

Exit question: Literally the day after Trump leaves office, a dozen blockbuster tell-alls are going to be on the shelves, aren’t they? I bet half are already written and being used as blackmail leverage over Trump. Gary Cohn’s book must be weak and devoid of juicy stuff or else Trump never would have dared to start this trade war.