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White House disputes John Kelly comments about hiring a "yes man" as chief of staff

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President Trump and the White House disputed former chief of staff John Kelly's comments that he told Mr. Trump he would be impeached if he hired a "yes man" as his successor. Mr. Trump said Saturday that Kelly "never said that."

In an interview with the Washington Examiner published Saturday, Kelly said he told Mr. Trump "whatever you do — and we were still in the process of trying to find someone to take my place — I said whatever you do, don't hire a 'yes man,' someone who won't tell you the truth — don't do that. Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached."

House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry last month, less than a year after Kelly departed. The impeachment inquiry is investigating if Mr. Trump tied military aid to Ukraine's willingness to investigate Mr. Trump's political rivals, which would amount to a quid pro quo. Mr. Trump has denied the allegations. 

Mr. Trump responded to Kelly on Saturday that Kelly "never said anything like that. If he would have said that I would have thrown him out of the office. He just wants to come back into the action like everybody else does."

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham also responded strongly on Saturday, saying "I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President." 

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Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, served as Mr. Trump's Homeland Security director before taking the chief of staff position in July 2017. During Kelly's time as chief of staff, it was reported that Mr. Trump told one confidant that he was "tired of being told no" by Kelly and has instead chosen to simply not tell Kelly things at all.

Kelly also told the Examiner that "system that should be in place, clearly — the system of advising, bringing in experts in, having these discussions with the president so he can make an informed decision, that clearly is not in place. And I feel bad that I left."

Kelly departed the White House at the end of 2018. Nick Ayers, the former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, was initially expected to take over for Kelly, but bowed out of the running when Mr. Trump wouldn't accept a three-month, interim tenure. Mr. Trump tweeted he had selected Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney to take over as acting chief of staff, although Kellyanne Conway, senior counselor to the president, had said hours earlier there was a list of five candidates for the job.

Kelly told the Examiner he has "to say the least, second thoughts about leaving." 

"It pains me to see what's going on because I believe if I was still there or someone like me was there, he would not be kind of, all over the place," Kelly said. 

Kelly said after leaving that being chief of staff was the "least enjoyable job I've ever had." 

On Saturday, Kelly participated in a panel discussion this weekend at the Sea Island summit, a political conference hosted by the Washington Examiner. During the panel discussion, Kelly called Mr. Trump's decision to remove troops from Syria a "catastrophically bad idea," according to the Examiner

"I want to get out of the endless wars, too. The problem is, the other side, even if we wanted to surrender, will not take our surrender. They hate us because of who we are, the way we live our lives, the way we worship our God," Kelly said. "What was working in Syria was that for very little investment, the Kurds were doing all the fighting, the vast majority of the dying, and we were providing intelligence and fire support assistance. And we were winning." 

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