John Kelly says Americans should ‘look harder at who we elect’

Ex-White House chief of staff questioned Trump’s character and ethics after Mattis attacked president for his conduct in office

Donald Trump and John Kelly at the White House in Washington DC, on 5 October 2017.

Donald Trump and John Kelly at the White House in Washington DC on 5 October 2017.
Photograph: Yuri Gripas/Reuters

The former White House chief of staff John Kelly has said Americans should “look harder at who we elect” and questioned the character and ethics of Donald Trump, the president he served for several years.

The retired general was Trump’s first homeland security secretary, then chief of staff until January 2019.

“I think we need to look harder at who we elect,” he told Anthony Scaramucci, a former White House communications director who has also turned against Trump, in a live-streamed interview on Friday.

“I think we should look at people that are running for office and put them through the filter. What is their character like? What are their ethics?”

As homeland security secretary, Kelly proposed Trump’s family separations policy on the southern border. As chief of staff, he publicly attacked an African American congresswoman who protested against Trump’s treatment of a military widow.

But he has criticised Trump before and on Thursday he spoke in support of James Mattis, another retired general who was Trump’s first secretary of defense.

Mattis attacked Trump for his conduct in office and his order on Monday that peaceful protesters over police brutality and the killing of George Floyd be forcibly cleared so he could stage a photo op outside St John’s church, near the White House.

Kelly said: “He’s quite a man, Jim Mattis, and for him to do that tells you where he is relative to the concern he has for our country.”

Excoriated in the media, by political opponents and by other senior figures in the US military, Trump has also been sued by the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Lives Matter and other civil rights groups over the stunt.

“I would’ve argued against it, recommended against it,” Kelly told Scaramucci. “I would argue that the end result of that was predictable.”

Trump has repeatedly claimed to have fired Mattis. In fact Mattis resigned, over the president’s attempt to withdraw US troops from Syria.

In December 2018, Kelly told the Los Angeles Times he went to work for Trump because “military people don’t walk away”. Two days later, he did.