Sen. Lindsey Graham: Trump should keep John Kelly, H.R. McMaster

Sen. Graham says Syria policy is a "mess"

After the latest round of staff shake-ups at the White House, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, says he has "a lot of confidence" in national security adviser H.R. McMaster and chief of staff John Kelly. 

"I'm very confident in H.R. McMaster. I think he's learned as much about the war on terror from fighting it than anybody that I know. I think he's really smart on North Korea and Iran. I hope the president will keep him around," Graham on CBS News' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

Graham's comments come after the president slammed reports that Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis were seeking to oust McMaster as "fake news." NBC News reported on Thursday that Stephen Biegun, a current Ford executive with national security experience during the George W. Bush administration, was the top contender to replace McMaster. 

Amid the speculation, Raj Shah, principal deputy press secretary, said the White House frequently faces "rumor and innuendo about senior administration officials. There are no personnel announcements at this time."

On Sunday, Graham said McMaster's future is "up to the president. He can fire anybody he likes, but I have a lot of confidence in Gen. McMaster."

The threat of yet another West Wing vacancy came on the heels of the announcement that longtime Trump confidant and White House communications director Hope Hicks is leaving her White House post.  

Graham said he had confidence in Kelly, who joked this week that leaving his role as secretary of homeland security to become Mr. Trump's chief of staff was a punishment from God. Kelly made the remark Thursday morning at an event marking the 15th anniversary of his old department. 

"I miss every one of you every day," Kelly said, rolling his eyes as the audience laughed. "Truly, six months, 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."

While the line drew laughs from the crowd, CBS News' chief White House correspondent Major Garrett reports that it had aggravated Mr. Trump and was not well received.

Kelly, who recently admitted improperly handling of the departure of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter amid domestic abuse allegations, told reporters on Friday there was "nothing to even consider resigning over," despite criticism of his handling of the situation. 

"John Kelly, to me, has created an order out of chaos initially, is kind of backsliding now," said Graham. 

He added, "I think John Kelly is the right guy to continue to help the president organize his agenda. Have a lot of faith and trust in John Kelly, hope he stays."

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    Emily Tillett

    Emily Tillett is a politics reporter and video editor for CBS News Digital