Kelly Says He Told Trump a ‘Yes Man’ as His Successor Would Lead to Impeachment

WASHINGTON — John F. Kelly, the former White House chief of staff who during his tenure made it clear he detested the job, expressed regret on Saturday about leaving and implied that he could have helped stave off the impeachment inquiry now threatening Mr. Trump’s presidency.

Mr. Kelly, who left barely on speaking terms with the president, said he warned his boss to pick a successor in his mold, meaning someone who would push back against him. “I said, whatever you do, don’t hire a ‘yes man,’ someone who won’t tell you the truth — don’t do that,” Mr. Kelly said, according to The Washington Examiner, which covered his remarks at a political summit it hosted in Sea Island, Ga. “Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached.”

Mr. Kelly left the administration last December, and has since joined the board of Caliburn International, the umbrella organization of a company that runs the largest housing facility for migrant children. Mr. Kelly has spoken out about his time in the administration on only a handful of occasions since his departure.

On Saturday, he did not mention his successor, Mick Mulvaney, by name. But his comments appeared to pin the blame for the fast-moving impeachment inquiry on Mr. Trump’s embattled acting chief of staff, who said at a news conference last week that aid to Ukraine had been withheld because the president wanted to pressure the country to investigate his political rivals, only to later backpedal. And Mr. Kelly framed Mr. Trump himself as a careening leader who needed to be controlled by his aides.

“I have an awful lot of, to say the least, second thoughts about leaving,” Mr. Kelly said. “It pains me to see what’s going on, because I believe if I was still there or someone like me was there, he would not be kind of, all over the place.”

During his early days as chief of staff, Mr. Kelly, a retired four-star general, was credited for bringing order to a chaotic West Wing. But by the end, he found the task of managing Mr. Trump to be impossible, and often complained to colleagues that the role was thankless.

In his comments on Saturday, however, Mr. Kelly cast his management style as a better model than what has followed.

“Don’t hire someone that will just nod and say, ‘That’s a great idea, Mr. President,’” Mr. Kelly said, adding that any successor needed to tell Mr. Trump that “you either have the authority or you don’t, or Mr. President, don’t do it.”

Mr. Kelly added that “the system that should be in place, clearly — the system of advising, bringing in experts in, having these discussions with the president so he can make an informed decision — that clearly is not in place. And I feel bad that I left.”

Other speakers at the three-day conference included Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former White House press secretary, as well as Representatives Kevin McCarthy and Devin Nunes, two of Mr. Trump’s Republican allies on Capitol Hill.

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