Former White House chief of staff John Kelly used his first public comments since his exit to distance himself from the Trump administration’s stances on immigration and the border wall – and says he would have worked for Hillary Clinton if asked.
Kelly, a former Marine general who Trump brought into his administration as Homeland Security chief and later as his top aide, called his former position ‘the least enjoyable job I’ve ever had.’
But he told a crowd at Duke University he took it out of a sense of duty after consulting with his wife.
‘If Hillary Clinton had called me, I would have done it,” said Kelly.
He also took on Trump’s signature issue – a border wall – and questioned the election eve decision to dispatch thousands of U.S. military troops to the border.
‘We don’t need a wall from sea to shining sea,’ said Kelly. On dispatching the guard, who were photographed stringing razor wire as Trump inveighed about a migrant caravan approaching the border: ‘Generally speaking I would always look for another way to do it,’ said Kelly.
He blamed former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his ‘zero tolerance’ policy for leading to the child separation crisis at the border.
And he held out understanding words for immigrants – who his former boss has targeted as potential ‘rapists, ‘routinely singling out violent crimes committed by border-jumpers to try to fire up opposition to illegal immigration.
“They’re overwhelmingly not criminals. They’re people coming up here for economic purposes. I don’t blame them for that,” said Kelly.
He also reiterated his position that a border wall spanning the entire U.S.-Mexico border would be a “waste of money,” despite overseeing the beginning of what would become the longest government shutdown in U.S. history over Trump’s demand that Congress fund the wall.
Kelly refused to get into the latest scandal roiling Washington – reports that Trump personally intervened and overruled him in order to secure high level security clearances for daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
‘I couldn’t — and I’m not dodging — I couldn’t comment on that for a couple of reasons,” he told the crowd. He said his conversations with the president on the topic would be covered by executive privilege,’ the New York Times reported.
He was diplomatic about the travel ban, pushed out before he was chief of staff. It got a chaotic role out and faced an immediate court fight, after Trump had called for a Muslim ban on the 2016 campaign trail, but a modified reversion remains.
The White House staff ‘got a little bit maybe out in front if their skis,’ said Kelly.
Trump announced in December 2018 that Kelly would be leaving, only to spend weeks trying to find a new chief of staff, finally installing former budget chief Mulvaney in an acting capacity.
Kelly says his advice for Mulvaney would be ‘run for it!’