“I had very little opportunity to look at” the orders before they were issued, Kelly said. “Obviously, it brought down a greater deal of thunder on the president.”
Kelly suggested he and others stopped Trump from withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan. (A partial pullout from Afghanistan appears likely, however, following a decision by the president this month, though senior US military officers have said they have received no orders.)
“When I first took over, he was inclined to want to withdraw from Afghanistan,” Kelly said, adding: “He was frustrated. It was a huge decision to make … and frankly there was no system at all for a lot of reasons – palace intrigue and the rest of it – when I got there.”
Kelly also defended those serving Trump as delivering him the right information, even if it might be disregarded.
“It’s never been: ‘The president just wants to make a decision based on no knowledge and ignorance’,” Kelly said. “You may not like his decision, but at least he was fully informed on the impact.”
Kelly’s words are not exactly a ringing endorsement of Trump’s decisions; they’re covering for Trump making decisions that officials didn’t like. He’s basically saying, “We tried to tell him!”
Kelly also distanced himself from the separation of families at the US-Mexico border, blaming then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for a zero-tolerance border policy that resulted in the separations – a policy marked by the deaths of two children who were in US custody.
As with the travel ban, Kelly suggests he was blindsided.
“What happened was Jeff Sessions – he was the one that instituted the zero-tolerance process on the border that resulted in both people being detained and the family separation,” Kelly said. “He surprised us.”
Kelly is perhaps more diplomatic than the anonymous senior administration official. He was also more subtle than former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who a few weeks ago said Trump was “undisciplined, doesn’t like to read” and tried to do illegal things but was often thwarted by those around him.
But at the core of Kelly’s comments was the same thing: a top Trump administration official suggesting that the political novice in the White House makes decisions with his gut and without much regard for the information that the smart people around him try to give him. The idea that Kelly regards his biggest success as standing in Trump’s way is a pretty strong indictment of Trump as a person and of his presidency.
It is also perhaps a warning of what’s to come as Trump is increasingly surrounded by yes-men and women.
All of these are the comments of a man who knows his legacy will be tied to Trump, and who isn’t entirely comfortable with that. The LA Times asked him about exactly that in its ending:
“Asked why he stayed 18 months in the White House, despite policy differences, personality clashes, the punishing schedule, and a likely lasting association with some of Trump’s controversies, he said simply: duty.
“‘Military people,’ he said, ‘don’t walk away.'”
The Washington Post