John Kelly: Being Trump's chief of staff was a "punishment from God"

Kelly told an audience celebrating Homeland Security's 15th anniversary that he didn't want to leave his old job

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published March 1, 2018 1:38PM (EST)

John Kelly (AP/Susan Walsh)
John Kelly (AP/Susan Walsh)

President Donald Trump's chief of staff is making headlines for a "joke" about how he landed his current job as a punishment from God.

"The last thing I wanted to do was walk away from one of the great honors of my life, being the secretary of Homeland Security, but I did something wrong and God punished me, I guess," Kelly told an audience gathered to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

Kelly was joined onstage by Trump's current Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, as well as two former holders of that position. Although Kelly was appointed by Trump as his first Secretary of Homeland Security, the retired general stepped down in July to replace Reince Priebus as Trump's chief of staff.

While Kelly may have been joking, his comment underscores a growing tension between some of Trump's most loyal staffers and the president himself. The president's family — and particularly his son, Donald Trump Jr. — have become increasingly angry with Kelly over the perception that his downgrade of Jared Kushner's security clearance was unfair to the president's son-in-law, according to Axios. Trump also "berated" his former communications director, Hope Hicks, after she admitted to the House Intelligence Committee that she sometimes tells white lies on Trump's behalf, according to CNBC.

Although early reports claimed that Trump's actions toward Hicks did not play a role in her unexpected resignation, the relationship between Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a bit more complicated. Once one of Trump's close friends and political allies, the president has repeatedly and publicly criticized Sessions for his handling of the ongoing probe into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government officials, even giving him a demeaning nickname, "Mr. Magoo," in private. On Wednesday, in what was perceived as a provocation against Trump, Sessions dined in public with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who Trump has also wished to fire for his role in overseeing the collusion investigation.

Trump's repeated attacks on Sessions are being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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