White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly tells NPR that there are “times of great frustration” on the job, “mostly because of the stories I read about myself or others that I think the world of.” But there is one media narrative that appears not to frustrate Kelly.
It's the one about how this four-star Marine general agreed to serve in President Trump's chaotic West Wing out of a sense of duty to the country. Check out this revealing exchange with NPR's John Burnett:
BURNETT: Do you have any regrets about taking this job nine months ago?
KELLY: I, first of all, didn't get a vote and took a $30,000-a-year-cut to take this job from what I was doing at DHS. And I say that only because I'm one of the, probably, the few people around here that isn't really rich — at my age, anyways. You know, the sense of duty. It was clear from my perch at DHS that the White House was less organized than our president deserved. So when he said, “I really need you to come down,” what do you say? I came down.
This was hardly a denial of regret by Kelly. And notice what he emphasized: He highlighted the financial sacrifice he made to become Trump's chief of staff and described a situation in which he felt he had no choice. He explicitly mentioned the “sense of duty” he felt.
Kelly practically read aloud from the New York Times, which reported in the fall that he “signed on reluctantly, more out of a sense of duty than a need for affirmation, personal enrichment or fame.”
Many other news accounts have described Kelly's motives in similar fashion. At a March event marking the 15th anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kelly said, “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.”
Remember, too, what former FBI director James B. Comey wrote in his book about Kelly:
He said he was sick about my firing and that he intended to quit in protest. He said he didn’t want to work for dishonorable people who would treat someone like me in such a manner. I urged Kelly not to do that, arguing that the country needed principled people around this president. Especially this president.
Kelly was the Homeland Security secretary at the time of Comey's firing. Obviously, he did not quit in protest; he instead accepted the role of White House chief of staff two months later.
Burnett asked whether Kelly has “seriously considered leaving” the White House.
“No,” Kelly said, even as he mentioned the “great frustration” of media coverage.
“Wonder if it's worth it to be subjected to that,” he said. “But then I grow up and suck it up.”
Some news reports may rankle Kelly, though unflattering coverage often appears to result from Kelly's own inability to plug White House leaks. For example, one of Friday's headlines — about an aide saying that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is “dying anyway” — would never have become a headline if the White House could manage to keep private conversations private.
Other leaks have portrayed Kelly as a soldier reporting for duty at a post he didn't really choose. Kelly isn't complaining about those disclosures; he is confirming them.