Donald Trump can’t bear for people to think he’s not calling his own shots—during the campaign, he boasted to me that he was his own strategist. When his staff has tried to manage him, he has seemed to take it as a point of pride to thwart them. So it’s only natural that his relationship with Chief of Staff John Kelly, who is attempting to impose discipline on Trump’s freewheeling West Wing by starkly curtailing access to Trump, would be fraught. But now there are signs that the rift between Kelly and his boss may be irreparable. The beginning of the fall season at Mar-a-Lago, later this month, is liable to be a crucial period in the relationship. The White House declined to comment on the record, but privately an official disputed these characterizations.
According to conversations with four prominent Republicans close to the White House, Trump has grown frustrated with Kelly in recent weeks at what he sees as Kelly’s highhandedness. “They’re fighting a lot,” one source explained. The most recent flashpoint was Kelly’s decision late last month to reassign Peter Navarro, Trump’s nationalist trade adviser, to report to without first clearing it with Trump. According to two sources familiar with the matter, Navarro bumped into Trump in the West Wing and explained that Kelly had reassigned him to work for Cohn, which was news to the president. “Trump was like, what the fuck? He told Navarro, ‘You’re my guy and hang in there,’” said a source briefed on the conversation. The source said Trump has taken up the matter with Kelly.
For his part, Kelly’s patience is being tested by Trump almost daily. In September, Kelly was photographed face-palming when Trump threatened to wipe out North Korea during a U.N. speech in which the president called Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man.”