Chief of Staff John Kelly stepped out from behind the scenes in a surprise daily press briefing yesterday, as he sought to show he’s in total control of the Trump White House, if not the president himself.
The Brighton native and retired four-star Marine Corps general denied reports that he’s frustrated and about to quit, before urging reporters, with a dash of snark, to “maybe develop some better sources.”
“I would just offer to you that although I read it all the time pretty consistently, I’m not quitting today,” Kelly said to laughter among reporters.
“I don’t believe — and I just talked to the president — I don’t think I’m being fired today,” he added. “And I’m not so frustrated in this job that I’m thinking of leaving.”
Calm and cool, Kelly joked with reporters in a thick Boston accent, but delivered a polite, if stern, scolding to the press.
“When I watch TV in the morning, it is astounding to me how much is misreported,” Kelly said. “I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you are operating off of contacts, leaks, whatever you call them. But I would just offer to you the advice: I would say maybe develop some better sources.”
With his unexpected appearance, the White House sought to tamp down the narrative that Kelly has grown increasingly upset with the job, horrified by Trump’s impulsive behavior and ineffective at preventing presidential outbursts.
CNN — Trump’s favorite media pinata — reported last week, citing “a source close to the president,” that “whispers about how long Kelly is going to last are getting louder.”
Vanity Fair reported “there are signs that the rift between Kelly and his boss may be irreparable.”
“I read in the paper — well, you all know, you write it — that I’ve been a failure at controlling the president, or a failure at controlling his tweeting, and all that,” said Kelly.
“I was not sent in to — or brought in to — control him, and you should not measure my effectiveness as a chief of staff by what you think I should be doing,” he said.
But Kelly also had a field day with media characterizations of his “facepalm” in a photo during Trump’s speech to the United Nations when the president called North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man.”
“You guys with the cameras always catch me when I’m thinking hard and it looks like I’m frustrated and mad,” Kelly said.
Later, as another reporter asked a lengthy question about India, Kelly jokingly looked to head off any misconceptions about his body language from the podium.
“By the way, just as I listened there, that face I had on was my listening intently face,” he said.
Kelly added he’s tried to avoid the press until he’s better rooted in the job, but noted he’s had three off-the-record conversations with reporters, “the first one of which was, of course, violated.”
Kelly, who grew up in Brighton and graduated from UMass Boston, was in charge of the U.S. Southern Command during the Obama administration and was first named secretary of Homeland Security under Trump before taking over for former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
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