The relationship between President Trump and Chief of Staff John Kelly has become strained according to sources within the White House. The source of the friction, according to officials, is Trump’s reluctance to adhere to restrictions imposed by Kelly on the Trump’s freewheeling, and border-line chaotic, management style.
Kelly was originally hired as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security at the beginning of the Trump administration. Last summer, when then-chief-of-staff Reince Priebus was dismissed, Kelly was brought in to the West Wing to establish some much-needed discipline.
Kelly scaled back the number of White House staffers freely allowed to walk into the Oval Office and attempt to persuade the President on issues beyond their responsibilities. “I didn’t know the Oval Office even had a door,” one staffer quipped.
He made meetings smaller, which made work in the West Wing much more efficient and also reduced leaks to the press. He also structured the President’s time in a way that facilitated policy debate between advisers with Trump being the final arbiter of decisions and has instituted orderly Cabinet meetings as well as senior staff meetings.
The President began to resist the structure early on however. He would invite staff and Cabinet members into the Oval Office without Kelly’s permission and would make calls to advisers, as well as outside friends, at night without Kelly’s knowledge.
There were also disagreements over personnel decisions. Reports are that president Trump wanted to dismiss former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as early as last fall, only relenting when Kelly threaten to resign. The President fired Tillerson last month.
Kelly has expressed dissatisfaction with the chaotic atmosphere present in the West Wing. He was incredulous, for example, at the access given to author Michael Wolff who wrote a scathing critique of the early days of the Trump White House in his book Fire and Fury. The book made numerous headlines earlier this year. “This place was a [expletive] before I got here,” Kelly reportedly seethed.
Others dispute the notion that the Trump-Kelly relationship has been especially turbulent in recent weeks. They note the President talks to Kelly more than any other official. A sentiment echoed by the President himself.
“The Washington Post is far more fiction than fact. Story after story is made up garbage – more like a poorly written novel than good reporting. Always quoting sources (not names), many of which don’t exist. Story on John Kelly isn’t true, just another hit job!” he wrote this morning on Twitter.