Former Trump chief of staff says ex-president is ‘scared s***less’

John Kelly was seen as leash on more extreme elements of Trump White House during his tenure

John Bowden
Washington DC
Thursday 15 June 2023 12:45 BST
Joe Biden roasts Donald Trump without even using his name
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President Donald Trump’s former chief of staff, John Kelly, panned a short address given by his former boss on Tuesday as nothing more than panicked bluster in response to two criminal indictments filed by prosecutors in New York and the US Department of Justice.

Mr Kelly spoke to The Washington Post after the ex-president appeared at his resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, in front of a crowd of $1,000-a-pop attendees gathered hastily to hear his post-arraignment remarks.

And he chalked up the president’s threats to go after Joe Biden and his family with the full power of a weaponised Department of Justice as president to little more than a tantrum.

“He’s scared s***less,” said Mr Kelly. “This is the way he compensates for that. He gives people the appearance he doesn’t care by doing this.”

“For the first time in his life, it looks like he’s being held accountable. Up until this point in his life, it’s like, ‘I’m not going to pay you. Take me to court.’ He’s never been held accountable before,” added the former senior White House official and retired Marine Corps general.

It was a comment that was simultaneously unsurprising yet notable due to the credence it lends to the idea that Donald Trump’s inner circle of advisers has done nothing but shrink since he took office in 2017 and left unceremoniously just four years later. In particular, Mr Trump is reported to have iced out all but those who agree most closely with his strategy and tactics, leaving behind even previously close aides like son-in-law Jared Kushner as he becomes further and further ensnared in legal entanglements.

Mr Kelly was long seen as one of the president’s cool-headed influences in the White House, often clashing with more fervent True Believers in the administration like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. His brush-ups with the former eventually led to Mr Bannon departing the White House entirely before the end of Mr Trump’s first year in office.

But Mr Kelly himself eventually left the White House, too, replaced by yes-men Mick Mulvaney and Mark Meadows who fed the president’s ego and enabled his most controversial actions, including his refusal to accept his election defeat to Mr Biden in 2020. Mr Meadows was most recently reported by The Independent to be cooperating with federal investigators in two probes examining his former boss’s undertakings as part of an immunity deal: One into the January 6 attack, and another dealing with presidential records and classified material taken from the White House.

Mr Kelly is one of many former Trump White House staffers who have denounced their former boss since leaving his service; in 2020, Mr Kelly was reported to have described then-President Trump as one of the most dishonest people he has ever known in a CNN report.

“The depths of his dishonesty is just astounding to me. The dishonesty, the transactional nature of every relationship, though it’s more pathetic than anything else. He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life,” Mr Kelly has told close friends, according to the news outlet.

Mr Trump was indicted last week on 37 criminal counts related to his handling of presidential records, including classified documents reportedly related to US defense and the military. He faces a separate 32-count indictment in New York, a result of a 2016 hush money scheme involving porn star Stormy Daniels.

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