White House chief of staff John Kelly has reportedly been undermining morale in the West Wing in recent months - commenting to aides that President Trump is an idiot, while touting himself as the "savior of the country," reports NBC News, citing "eight current and former White House officials."
The officials said Kelly portrays himself to Trump administration aides as the lone bulwark against catastrophe, curbing the erratic urges of a president who has a questionable grasp on policy issues and the functions of government. He has referred to Trump as "an idiot" multiple times to underscore his point, according to four officials who say they've witnessed the comments. -NBC News
NBC notes that three White House spokespeople say the "idiot" thing just isn't true, and he may have spoken in jest about saving the country.
In one heated exchange between the two men before February's Winter Olympics in South Korea, Kelly strongly — and successfully — dissuaded Trump from ordering the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula, according to two officials.
For Kelly, the exchange underscored the reasoning behind one of his common refrains, which multiple officials described as some version of "I'm the one saving the country."
"The strong implication being 'if I weren't here we would've entered WWIII or the president would have been impeached,'" one former senior White House official said. -NBC News
"He doesn't even understand what DACA is. He's an idiot," Kelly said in one meeting, according to two officials who were present. "We've got to save him from himself."
According to NBC's sources, Kelly has been hiding behind his public image as a four-star, while in truth operating in an "undisciplined and indiscreet" manner. "The private manner aides describe may shed new light on why Kelly now finds himself — just nine months into the job — grappling with diminished influence and a drumbeat of questions about how long he'll remain at the White House."
"He says stuff you can't believe," one senior White House official tells NBC News. "He'll say it and you think, 'That is not what you should be saying.'"
According to presidential historian Michael Beschloss, Kelly's comments about Trump vs. prior White House chiefs of "suggest a lack of respect for the sitting president of a kind that we haven't seen before," adding that the closest would have to be President Ronald Reagan's chief of staff, Don Regan, who "somewhat looked down on" The Gipper, and eventually lost Reagan's support - having been replaced after two years by Howard Baker.