How and why President Trump Removed his Chief of Staff and Replaced him with a General

President Trump announced late Friday afternoon that he had named John Kelly as his Chief of Staff, replacing Reince Priebus. Priebus had been the subject of rumors of imminent dismissal more or less since Trump picked him for the job following the November Election.

Trump first announced the news via Twitter:

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump

I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American….

4:49 PM – Jul 28, 2017

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump

…and a Great Leader. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration

4:54 PM – Jul 28, 2017

Returning from a speech in Long Island, NY on Air Force One — Trump with Priebus along with him told reporters at Andrews Air Force Base, “Reince is a good man. John Kelly will do a fantastic job. General Kelly has been a star, done an incredible job thus far, respected by everybody. He’s a great, great American. Reince is a good man.” Immediately after which Priebus then got into a waiting car and departed, separate from the president’s motorcade. In a series of media interviews following, Priebus said that he had resigned on Thursday.

Priebus’s resignation is a turning point for the Trump presidency, but it is also a critical opportunity to squash the internal anti-Trump insurgency and first and foremost stop the leaks. At the same time General Kelly will inherit a West Wing that has been challenged and politicalized by chaos, backstabbing, factionalism, and inefficacy, no thanks to Priebus, who was less interested in managing and prioritizing the President’s and the nation’s business, and more in instigating turmoil and whispering internal Presidential business to his left-wing friends in the mainstream media. While every administration suffers from some rivalries, the poisonous atmosphere in Trump’s White House was by and large orchestrated by Priebus. Priebus had to go.

In the meantime, the question that now is raised is, why did President Trump hire Priebus in the first place as his Chief of Staff? Let’s remember Priebus arrived in the White House after serving as Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC). Many believed it was always a somewhat strange fit for the job — while he was the RNC Chairman, had the Washington, DC “rolodex” and with those on Capitol Hill, he did not have the executive management skills with in the Executive Branch of the Federal Government, and he was an Establishment member of the Republican Party. Though he had proven himself a fairly able and capable administrator at the RNC, he had none of the characteristics common to successful chiefs of staff: experience in government and especially the executive branch, a hard-headed ability to get his way, and an unshakeable bond with the president. Worse in fact, Priebus had been wary of Trump’s candidacy all along, because of his independent, populous, and nationalist – America First approach, his demeanor, and his less than conventional political style — might I say his lack of political correctness. Prior to the Election, Priebus urged him to drop out of the race—a slight and disparaging remark and act that Donald Trump reportedly never forgot.

Nonetheless, the president chose him as Chief of Staff after his surprise victory, making Priebus the foremost avatar of the Republican Establishment in the White House. From a purely analytical standpoint, President Trump set Priebus up for failure from the start, with it being up to Priebus to prove differently. The President allowed several rival power centers to exist in the West Wing, including chief strategist Steve Bannon (with whom Priebus often clashed early on and regularly), senior adviser Jared Kushner, and aide Kelly Anne Conway. And to make a point, Trump authorized these aides to essentially have Oval Office “walk-in” privileges, allowing them to go directly in to the President without passing through Priebus.

Second and probably most important, Donald Trump the man, works off of loyalty and trust of those around him and work for him and in his close personal relationships with friends, colleagues, and in his various inner circles. When he brought, Priebus, Spicer, and Priebus’ Deputy Katie Walsh into the White House and more so, his inner circle, he did so intentionally, knowing full well that they were part of the Republican Establishment. He also knew that they did not like him. But as I noted Donald Trump uses a very good strategy that is essentially fool-proof. That is he bases all relationships from the premise; “Prove I can trust you.” At the same time, in the early days of his Presidency he addressed this as both a message and a warning to the Republican Establishment essentially saying – ‘show me you will work with me and support my agenda.’ They didn’t, they stabbed him in the back.

Of course, Donald Trump knew all along this would happen, because he understood their agenda, but he extended his hand to the Republican Party to test them and they fucked him. They leaked directly to the New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and their contacts and friends across and throughout the mainstream media. If you really think President Trump was not aware this was going on, I can assure you he knew. And in fact, he allowed Walsh, Spicer, and Priebus, along with several others in the West Wing to demonstrate their treasonous behavior — he even gave them enough rope to hang themselves, and they did as it has played out.

Similarly, Trump is using this same strategy and tactics with foreign leaders in the EXACT same way. It is deliberate and intentional, but ensures he know who he can subsequently and eventually trust. His international engagement, first and foremost is all about trust and loyalty. I can guarantee you that he is doing this with Putin specifically, and he will use this method with all critically important international leaders and heads of state. For Russia, while he has extended his hand, much to the chagrin of the Republican and Democratic Establishment, President Trump knows what he is doing and knows exactly what Putin will do and how he with behave. Trump’s strategy puts the onus on Putin and the opportunity to obligate Putin work with President Trump and America. Of course, President Trump is essentially saying to Putin; prove to me you’re an honest man, and that I can trust you and Russia and America can work together. Most Americans don’t think this way and it is why most conventional thinking people automatically in the case of people like Putin look at him and automatically and stereotypically label him as a bad guy.  President Trump knows certainly this, but in a gesture of good will has extended his hand, with his intention being and saying; prove you are not. Donald Trump’s approach is, rather entering into an international diplomatic relationship for the first time as the new President of the United States – ‘I’ll let you prove your trust.’ Bottom line of President Trump’s intentions is, let’s not create adversarial relationships based over past U.S.’s international political biases, let’s reengage first. Let’s let those nations that truly dislike us be the ones to show their disdain, aversion, and or hate for America, rather than the U.S. always walking around and pointing the finger at who is evil. Let those countries reveal that themselves by their acts and actions … then we can call them out on it and point a finger.

Likewise, President Trump just did this with Iran and the certification of Obama’s Iran Deal. Knowing full well it is flawed, though the latest report despite being commendable, it was manipulated. President Trump knew that, but basically let it go through. He knows they and the UN allowed for the cheating, but pretended he didn’t, essentially saying fine, go ahead, we’ll see. This will be the strategy for the next required UN certification. It will be up to both the Iran and the UN to ensure the next inspection report is legitimate. If it is faked and or fabricated, it will be President Trump’s call to validate any and all fraud, backed by evidence, and at the same time scold the UN as being equally corrupt as Iran … most likely even severing U.S. aid to the UN organization and tearing up the deal. Earlier this year, I wrote an article for America Out Loud about the Trump Doctrine in I which explains Trump’s methodology, rationale and strategy, but in greater detail than just addressed.

So, as I briefly laid-out, President Trump in the same way, is using his strategy and method of dealing with both friend and enemies to his advantage in dealing with who he trusts within the Executive Office of the President. It is about “trust and loyalty” — he knew, and knows exactly what he was and is doing and what he is up against. Again, as I noted, he more than likely anticipated all along this would more than likely happen. Further, since day one, the Republican Establishment has trashed him all along; through the campaign, during the transition, and as it continues now. Secondly, as I also previously noted, it is still fresh in Donald Trump’s mind from when Priebus called for him to step down as the Republican nominee, prior to the November 2016 Election. Of course, like the Democrats, and their ever prevalent hypocrisy, we watched them after Donald Trump was elected — how many of them rushed forward and were suddenly kissing his ass (or acting like it). To counter and even offer a political olive branch of unity with the RNC and all Republicans, he made Priebus his White House Chief of Staff. The only requirement on the part of Priebus was to bury the hatchet which was essentially an effort for him to prove his trust and loyalty, and that of the RNC Establishment. Donald Trump’s strategy proved they weren’t, and Priebus’ antics, behavior and action led and influenced that attitude and mindset across the Establishment wing of the Republican Party.

Enter General John Kelly. Less than two weeks after Donald Trump was elected, he asked Kelly to meet with him to discuss the roles of Secretaries of State and Homeland Security. Kelly like many of the other retired Generals impressed the president-elect, soon being named the Secretary of Homeland Security. That meeting last November launched what has become one of President’s most important relationships within his administration. Now, within days of Priebus’ forced resignation for failure of unifying the Executive of the President, instigating most of the problems, and influencing and engaging in thee leaking, General Kelly got the nod. The President likes Kelly and most of all he trusts Kelly.

At the same time the work is just beginning. Kelly will be expected to continue to track down and cut down on the leaks. Of course, the leaks are a symptom of dysfunction, and the way to fix them is to fix the underlying chaos. That was obviously apparent in animosity and between Trump loyalists and those inside the White House working against the President. When Trump’s legislative initiatives began to struggle, he lashed out at Priebus, because Priebus did nothing. Priebus’ close relationship with Speaker Paul Ryan was supposed to make moving legislation through the House easy. When then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer disappointed Trump, he blamed Priebus, who had brought Spicer over from the RNC.  As noted, despite the President’s direction, Priebus was responsible for failing to stop leaks, although given that the President was a frequent target, he was clearly he did nothing to curtail them. Yet, news reports repeatedly claimed that President Trump was interviewing possible successors.

Going forward, the departures of Spicer and Priebus and their subordinates leave the GOP/RNC establishment almost entirely cleaned out of the White House. General Kelly’s elevation, meanwhile, has become the latest case of Trump placing his trust in the generals. He appointed several retired members of the top brass to his team—Kelly, the current Secretary of Homeland Security; Defense Secretary General James Mattis; and General Michael Flynn, the national-security adviser, fired in February for supposedly lying to the Vice President, and replaced by Lt. General H.R. McMaster.

Trump has seen an unusual number of high-level departures from his administration for such a short period, including the firing or resignation of a chief of staff, a press secretary, a deputy chief of staff, and a national-security adviser. With Kelly’s departure at DHS, Trump will now need to find a new secretary of homeland security, a Senate-confirmed position with important responsibilities—not least the construction of Trump’s beloved border wall and the implementation of his beleaguered travel ban. Meanwhile, hundreds of Senate-confirmed jobs remain without even a nominee. But I trusted Kelly will bring the needed advise, fortitude and organization to find his replacement at DHS and other critical positions. Further, many have felt that he needed a general to lead the White House, someone who could instill more discipline, something Priebus seriously lacked. Kelly will have his work cut out for him. Priebus was ineffective at ending infighting in the White House, but the basic problem is not the chief of staff, but the presence of a West Wing in worse chaos than Clinton’s with a raft of fractious advisers and staffer. Much of which has been the source of the leaks which Kelly will be expected to cut down and to subsequently end. That being said, the leaks are a symptom of dysfunction, and the way to fix them is to fix the underlying chaos — obviously, will be Kelly’s first challenge.

From a military point of view Kelly’s approach should be to simplify and streamline the organizational chart at the White House, make himself the gatekeeper to the Oval Office, and keep the president away from distractions, above the fray, and political attacks.

Kelly, however, also faces a special-counsel investigation by Robert Mueller; and a Congress with own investigations target around the President and a political agenda that has pretty much made the point not to work with, but against the President – all of which essentially benefits the Democrats. Of course, the biggest challenge for Kelly is finding a way to channel the president’s energy and keep him on track. Kelly’s fate may hinge on his ability to keep Trump from being Trump. However, knowing Kelly, and him being a brilliant strategist and hardcore general — his best bet will be to find a way to “effectively” weaponize that energy to Trump’s advantage.

Jim Waurishuk is a retired USAF Colonel, serving nearly 30-years as a career senior intelligence and political-military affairs officer and special mission intelligence officer with expertise in strategic intelligence, international strategic studies and policy, and asymmetric warfare. He served combat and combat-support tours in Grenada, Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan, as well as on numerous special operations and special mission intelligence contingencies in Central America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. He served as a special mission intelligence officer assigned to multiple Joint Special Operations units, and with the CIA’s Asymmetric Warfare Task Force, as well as in international and foreign advisory positions. He served as Deputy Director for Intelligence for U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) during the peak years of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Global War on Terrorism. He is a former White House National Security Council staffer and a former Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C. He served as a senior advisor to the Commander U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and is Vice President of the Special Ops-OPSEC -- which provides strategic and operational security analysis and assessments to governmental and private entities, as well as media organizations on national security issues, policy, and processes. He currently provides advisory and consulting services on national security, international strategic policy, and strategy assessments for the U.S. and foreign private sector and governments entities, media groups and outlets, and to political groups, forums, and political candidates. He is an author and writer providing regular commentary and opinion to national and local TV, radio networks, and for both print and online publications, as well as speaking engagements to business, political, civic and private groups on national security matters – focusing on international strategic policy and engagement, and strategic intelligence, and subject matter expertise on special mission intelligence and operations, counter-terrorism, and asymmetric warfare and conflict.