John Kelly finds himself squarely in the spotlight again after his defense of White House staff secretary Rob Porter as "a man of true integrity and honor" in the wake of domestic abuse allegations. President Trump's chief of staff has since pronounced himself appalled at the allegations and has issued a lengthy memo to White House staffers calling domestic violence "abhorrent," reports CNN. But his initial reaction continues to draw criticism, along with whispers that his days may be numbered. Details and developments:
- The problem: Kelly still hasn't "adequately answered" when he first learned of the allegations, notes Jonathan Swan at Axios, and the official line that he became "fully aware" only after a recent Daily Mail story "doesn't pass the smell test." For one thing, Porter's ex-wives had spoken to the FBI; plus a police report and a restraining order were filed.
- New version? The Washington Post reports that Kelly is pushing the narrative that he acted decisively once he learned the accusations had merit, but that contradicts the accounts of other White House officials. The AP reports that Kelly learned of the serious allegations against Porter last fall while looking into security clearances. All of the above is leading to quotes like this from Democratic Sen. Jon Tester: "If John Kelly is covering this up, he needs to be held accountable. He better have a really good reason. Otherwise, he's gone, too."
- In trouble? The New York Times reports that Trump is upset at Kelly and recently vented about him in a call with Reince Priebus—the former chief of staff Kelly was brought in to replace. The story floats Mick Mulvaney, currently director of the budget office, as a potential replacement being considered by Trump, though the story adds that it's all but impossible to predict what the president will do. Aides tell Swan of Axios that Trump, while upset, is unlikely to fire Kelly.
- Knives out: The Hill has multiple quotes from anonymous White House sources speaking poorly of the chief of staff, including one calling him "tone deaf and politically inept."
- Credibility: At the Washington Post, Philip Rucker ticks off a number of controversies (like so, and so, and so) that have tarnished the former general's once-sterling credibility. "The irony for Kelly may be that the credibility that makes him a singular asset in this White House may have been irreparably damaged by his work in it."
- Another example: An editorial at USA Today take note that Kelly's recent comment that young immigrants may be "too lazy to get off their asses" to sign up for the DACA program. Now the Porter mess "raises the question of whether the retired Marine is changing the White House for the better, or whether prolonged exposure to Trump is changing Kelly for the worse."
- The decider: All of this matters a great deal because in the Trump White House, it is Kelly, not Trump, who is "the decider," writes Damon Linker at the Week. Trump is weak on policy knowledge, giving his advisers more clout than usual, and none has more than Kelly. (See his recent split with Trump over a border wall.) Trump's critics may find this comforting, but Linker sees the situation as "disturbing." Trump was the one elected, but "Kelly (a man who did not run for and did not win the presidency) is the one ultimately making the calls."
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