Trump denies Kelly’s warning on hiring ‘yes man’ as replacement

Laura Davison and Jennifer Jacobs

Donald Trump denied John Kelly’s assertion that he had warned the president he would be impeached if he replaced the former White House chief of staff with a “yes man.”

Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general who was chief of staff from July 2017 to January 2019, said at an event sponsored by the Washington Examiner that he told the president he needed someone to keep him within the bounds of his authority to avoid impeachment.

“John Kelly never said that, he never said anything like that,” Trump said in a statement. “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 chief of staff John Kelly listens as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a briefing with senior military leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House October 5, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Kelly said he believed Trump wouldn’t be facing an impeachment inquiry had he stayed in the job, a thinly veiled shot at Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff who was his replacement.

“I said, 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,” Kelly said Saturday at the newspaper’s political conference in Sea Island, Georgia.

“It pains me to see what’s going on,” Kelly said, according to the newspaper.

House Democrats in September opened an inquiry following the release of a whistle-blower complaint about a conversation Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which he asked Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his son.

The impeachment probe has spurred a contentious battle with the White House as Democrats seek to determine if Trump and a handful of close advisers pressured Ukraine officials to conduct the investigations by withholding U.S. military assistance. The Trump administration has attempted to stymie the effort by blocking witnesses and withholding documents.

“I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great president,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.