White House chief of staff John Kelly has often called President Donald Trump an “idiot” in front of aides and has portrayed himself as a “savior” who has singlehandedly rescued the country from disaster, according to an NBC News report published Monday that cited comments from eight current and former White House officials.
Four of the officials said they’d personally witnessed Kelly using the disparaging term to describe Trump.
“He doesn’t even understand what DACA is. He’s an idiot,” Kelly allegedly said during a meeting about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and overall immigration policy. “We’ve got to save him from himself.”
In a statement Monday, Kelly dismissed the NBC story as “total BS.”
“I spend more time with the President than anyone else and we have an incredibly candid and strong relationship,” he said in a statement. “He always knows where I stand and he and I both know this story is total BS. I am committed to the President, his agenda, and our country. This is another pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump and distract from the administration’s many successes.”
NBC’s unnamed sources told the network that Kelly was known to “make fun” more generally at what the chief of staff saw as the president’s “lack of knowledge about policy and government.”
They said Kelly has also painted himself as being the person responsible for shielding the country from Trump’s more erratic impulses.
“The strong implication being, ‘If I weren’t here we would’ve entered WWIII or the president would have been impeached,’” NBC reported that one senior White House official said of Kelly’s attitude.
The chief of staff’s alleged criticisms of the president have been demoralizing to aides, the NBC sources said. They also accused Kelly of belittling women and of making troubling comments about the domestic violence accusations leveled against former staff secretary Rob Porter by that aide’s two ex-wives. Porter was forced to quit his job when the accusations were publicized.
Officials told NBC that Kelly questioned aloud why Porter’s alleged victims “wouldn’t just move on.”
Some of the officials quoted in the NBC story suggested that Kelly may resign this summer as tensions mount between him and Trump.
But several White House spokespeople pushed back against the suggestion that the president and Kelly had anything less than a good working relationship and refuted the suggestion that Kelly had referred to Trump as an “idiot.”
These officials told NBC that Kelly is in the Oval Office “more than anyone else.” They conceded, however, that Trump does get “frustrated” with the chief of staff at times.
Stephanie Ruhle, one of the reporters behind the NBC article, defended the veracity of the story’s contents on Monday, telling Kelly in a tweet that it was people “on your team” who recounted stories of “you (not us) undermining [the president’s] credibility.”