“He’s a great guy,” the president said. “I appreciate his service very much.”
Trump did not immediately name Kelly’s replacement but said he planned to “in the next day or so.”
Rumors of Kelly’s departure had swirled for more than a year amid persistent reports of tensions between Trump and his chief of staff.
The Wall Street Journal reported in late June that Trump had consulted his advisers on a replacement, sources familiar with the matter said. A flurry of media reports in April claimed that Kelly had grown increasingly frustrated with the president.
According to Politico, Kelly once told at least one person that he doesn’t care what Trump does that might lead to his impeachment, because then “at least this chapter of American history would come to a close.”
Kelly faced intense scrutiny in February and March over his response to the resignation of White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who faced allegations of domestic abuse from both his ex-wives. Kelly, who had hired Porter, initially defended him as “a man of true integrity and honor.”
After photos were made public of one of Porter’s ex-wives with a black eye, Kelly claimed he was “shocked” by the reports but that he would “stand by” his earlier praise.
However, CNN reported that White House officials, including Kelly, knew of Porter’s abuse allegations before the photos of his ex-wife were released. The following week, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate intelligence committee that the FBI had given the White House a preliminary report on Porter nearly a year ago.
Despite the reports that Kelly was aware of allegations against Porter, the staff secretary was up for a promotion in the days before his resignation, CNN reported. The White House struggled to stay on message as reporters pressed spokespeople to explain the inconsistencies.
Vanity Fair reported Kelly shouldered most of the blame for the Porter incident, and The New York Times reported Trump expressed his frustration with Kelly during a call with former chief of staff Reince Priebus.
Kelly replaced former chief of staff Reince Priebus on July 28, 2017, taking the role amid a period of dramatic changes in staffing at the White House. He quickly took on a broader range of responsibility than Priebus had, requiring all White House staffers to answer to him. (Senior aides to Trump did not answer to Priebus during his tenure.)
Kelly has had a tougher relationship with Trump than his predecessor did and instituted more restrictions around who could reach the president. Vanity Fair reported in 2017 Kelly’s discipline put a strain on his relationship with Trump and cited an unnamed source who said Trump and Kelly were “fighting a lot.”
Trouble surrounded Kelly before he began his stint as chief of staff. In 2017, Politico report cited three U.S. government officials who said Kelly’s cellphone was compromised throughout the first half of that year, with the suspected breach potentially happening even before he began serving as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in January.
Kelly spent more than four decades rising through the Marine Corps ranks before retiring in 2016 as a four-star general. He completed multiple tours in Iraq and developed close ties on Capitol Hill as the Marines’ congressional liaison.
Lydia O’Connor, Nick Visser, Elise Foley and Jessica Schulberg contributed reporting.