US President Donald Trump is not committing to a previous pledge to keep White House Chief of Staff John Kelly for the remainder of his term, part of widespread speculation about staffing changes that could soon sweep through his administration.
In a wide-ranging interview on Fox News Sunday, Trump praised Kelly’s work ethic and much of what he brings to the position, but added: “There are certain things that I don’t like that he does.”
“There are a couple of things where it’s just not his strength. It’s not his fault. It’s not his strength,” Trump said, adding that Kelly himself might want to depart.
Asked whether he would keep Kelly in his post through 2020, Trump said only that “it could happen.”
Trump has pledged publicly that Kelly would remain through his first term in office, although many in the White House were skeptical.
Trump said he was happy with his Cabinet, but was thinking about changing “three or four or five positions.”
One of them is US Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, whose departure is now considered inevitable.
Trump said in the interview that he could keep her on, but he made clear that he wished she would be tougher in implementing his hardline immigration policies and enforcing border security.
The list of potential replacements for Nielsen includes a career lawman, two military officers and a former acting US Immigration and Customs Enforcement head. However, her eventual replacement will find that there is no getting around the immigration laws and court challenges that have thwarted Trump’s agenda at every turn — even if there is better personal chemistry.
Trump also discussed the removal this month of deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel, who is being moved to another position in the administration after clashes with the East Wing culminated in an extraordinary statement from first lady Melania Trump that called for her removal.
The president said that Ricardel was “not too diplomatic, but she’s talented” and downplayed the idea that his wife was calling the shots in the White House.
“[The first lady’s team] wanted to go a little bit public because that’s the way they felt and I thought it was fine,” Trump said.
He dismissed a series of reports that he had been fuming in the week after the Democrats captured the US House of Representatives, saying that the mood of the West Wing was “very light.”
Trump also addressed a series of other topics.
He said that he “would not get involved” if Acting US Attorney General Matt Whitaker decided to curtail Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Whitaker was previously a fierce critic of the probe and Democrats have called for him to recuse himself from overseeing it.
“It’s going to be up to him,” Trump said. “I really believe he’s going to do what’s right.”
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