President Trump announced Saturday that John Kelly will be leaving his post as White House chief of staff at the end of the year, marking the end of a tenuous, sometimes tumultuous tenure that many believed would conclude months ago.
Mr. Trump announced Kelly's imminent departure on the White House South Lawn Saturday afternoon before departing to attend the Army vs. Navy football game in Philadelphia.
"John Kelly will be leaving, I don't know if I can say retiring but, he's a great guy," the president told reporters. "John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year. We'll be announcing who will be taking John's place, it might be on an interim basis. I'll be announcing that over the next day or two."
The president added, "I appreciate his service very much."
A senior White House official told CBS News that the president didn't bring up Kelly's impending departure at a dinner with White House senior staff Saturday night, as some had expected him to do. It is unclear who will replace Kelly, although Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, has been listed as a possible successor. Mr. Trump didn't respond to shouted questions as to whether Ayers would be the replacement.
Kelly, who joined the White House as chief of staff in July 2017 after the departure of predecessor Reince Priebus, spent months fighting to establish and maintain control of a White House marked by competing factions and complicated by a president who thrives on keeping everyone guessing.
For months, Kelly's departure appeared to be looming, as CBS News chief White House correspondent Major Garrett reported in March, and in November. In July, The Wall Street Journal first reported Kelly had agreed to stay on as chief of staff through the 2020 election cycle, although whether he would actually last that long in the role -- a long time for any chief of staff but particularly for senior staff in Trump world -- was in question.
Kelly's departure comes at a pivotal time for Mr. Trump's administration, as special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation continues to hand down legal developments concerning people close to the president, and as Democrats prepare to take control of the House -- and the investigative powers that come with it -- in January.
Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general -- a qualification that made him attractive for the job to Mr. Trump -- strove to bring some order to a White House with relatively little government experience, and to a president who dislikes many of the routine aspects of governing.
Onetime Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described Mr. Trump's aversion to detail in an interview with "CBS News This Morning."
"It was challenging for me, coming from the highly processed Exxon Mobil, to go work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn't like to read, doesn't read briefing reports, doesn't like to get to the details of a lot of things but rather says look this is what I believe," Tillerson said.
It was to that environment that Kelly attempted to bring order. Upon his arrival, Kelly also looked to ensure fewer people had direct access to the president in the Oval Office -- a move that frustrated some whose access was suddenly restricted.
What Kelly will do next is unclear.
Kelly had moments of his own, however, when he became the focus of attention or controversy. Here are a few of them:
Rob Porter allegations
Kelly was thrust into the rare spotlight in January 2018, after issuing a statement standing by then-White House staff secretary Rob Porter when Porter was accused of abusing his ex-wives. Porter had worked at the White House on an interim security clearance for a year and had warned the White House counsel and Kelly that there might be problems with his background check.
In his initial statement, statement Kelly called Porter a "man of true integrity and honor." Exactly what Kelly knew about the allegations, and when, spurred questions and criticism.
In the wake of the Rob Porter fiasco, Kelly cracked down on the clearance process to help ensure White House staff weren't operating on temporary clearances. Porter and other top White House officials, including the president's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, had long been operating without long-term clearances while being privy to sensitive information.
Death of La David Johnson in Niger
In October 2017, Kelly defended the president's call to the widow of Army Sergeant La David Johnson, after Johnson's death in an ambush in Niger. Mr. Trump, according to Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, told the widow her husband "knew what he signed up for."
Kelly came to the White House briefing room himself to defend the president, criticizing Wilson for listening to the condolence call. But he also walked through with reporters what U.S. government and military officials say to the bereaved, a conversation he knew well, since the man who is now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Joseph Dunford, had appeared at Kelly's own door in 2010 to tell him his son had been killed in Afghanistan. And in recounting what Dunford had said to him, he repeated a version Mr. Trump's words to Johnson's widow, Myeshia Johnson, casting them in a different light.
"'Kel,'" he recalled Dunford said of his son, "'he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that one percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we were at war. And when he died...he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends.'"
"God punished me" with the White House
Kelly joked to Department of Homeland Security employees in March that leaving DHS and his role as DHS secretary for the White House was because "God punished me, I guess" -- humor that didn't go over well with the president.
Mr. Trump, as CBS News' Garrett reported, believed he gave Kelly a considerable amount of power when he arrived, and thought Kelly should remember and appreciate that -- not suggest he was cursed.
Trump and Charlottesville violence
In public, Kelly, 68, occasionally let on his discomfort with his job at the White House.
Mr. Trump's response to the deadly violence that ensued from the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2018 became an immediate test for Kelly, who had started as White House chief of staff days earlier. Photographers captured the still-new chief of staff hanging his head and looking down at his shoes as the president, from his perch in Trump Tower, blamed "many sides" for the violence that left 32-year-old Heather Heyer dead.
Nick Ayers considered as replacement for Kelly
Reporting by Fin Gomez
A senior White House official told CBS News that the president is expected to make an announcement Monday about who will replace outgoing chief of staff John Kelly, and that Nick Ayers, the vice president's current chief of staff, remains the top contender.
CBS News has learned that President Trump and Ayers, have been working out the details under which Ayers could officially elevated to that role, according to senior White House sources. The president wants his next chief of staff to hold the position through the 2020 election.
The two year commitment has been an obstacle for Ayers, as he is a 36 year old father of triplets. He had long decided on leaving the administration and moving his family back to Georgia, a senior White House official told CBS News.
"Nick is one of the top contenders for the job, although he has long planned to move back to Georgia with his family by end of the year," the official said.
Though Ayers has his detractors in the West Wing, he has a strong backing from Vice President Mike Pence and Mr. Trump's daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Ayers is widely respected for his prowess in political strategy and acumen for running a well oiled operation like he has done in Pence world.
Trump advisers with an eye on 2020 have also urged the president to change his chief of staff to someone with a respected acumen for politics ahead of the re-election effort.