"It got back to Trump that Kelly was badmouthing him"

But Trump’s frustration with Kelly boiled over after Kelly pressed him to name his deputy Zachary Fuentes interim chief of staff. “Trump didn’t like how Kelly was trying to dictate the terms of his departure,” a Republican briefed on the discussions told me. Trump blew up the carefully orchestrated announcement and told reporters on Saturday as he walked to Marine One that Kelly would be leaving by the end of the year. “John wanted to announce his own departure. This was a humiliation,” a former West Wing official said.

Trump’s impulsive announcement quickly became an even bigger problem when it turned out that Kelly’s replacement was not sewn up; Ayers surprised Trump later that day by insisting that he only wanted the job short term. “Trump was pissed, he was caught off guard,” a former West Wing official briefed on the talks said. Sources said Ayers, who has triplets, told Trump he wanted to return to Georgia with his wife in the spring and work on a super PAC supporting Trump’s 2020 re-election. But a former White House official said Ayers wanted to avoid intense scrutiny on his financial dealings (last year, Ayers reported a net worth of $12.2 million to $54.8 million from his political-consulting ventures). “He started getting calls from reporters with requests for information about how he made his money and he thought, ‘Do I really want to do this?’” said a source familiar with his thinking.