There's Drama Inside the White House as Trump Pits John Kelly Against His Own Family

Dustin Rowles | Politics | February 28, 2018

Remember when Donald Trump brought in Anthony Scaramucci, which had the effect of causing Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer to resign, and then Trump brought in John Kelly ten days later, and one of his first acts as Chief of Staff was to fire Scaramucci? One gets the sense that a similar dynamic is at play in the White House right now and that Donald Trump — crippled by indecision — is pitting his own people against each other and is simply waiting for the dust to clear.

Trump doesn’t care for John Kelly. John Kelly doesn’t really care all that much for Trump, and he really dislikes Trump’s family. He was reportedly miffed about Ivanka “playing government” in her trip to South Korea, and he has long been at odds with Jared Kushner, which culminated in the decision to allow Kusher’s security clearances to be downgraded. (Don Jr. is also pissed at Kelly for hanging Kushner out to dry.)

Kushner’s security clearances, however, are only the beginning of his problems. The reason Kushner’s security clearance has been held up is because Bob Mueller is targetting him, largely over his contacts and business relationships with foreign governments. Aside from Manafort, Kushner seems to be Mueller’s biggest ultimate target. Kushner lied (or lied by omission many, many times) in his security clearance application; he’s the one who tried to open up back-channel communications with Russia; he was in on the Don Jr. meeting with the Russian lawyer; he played an instrumental role in the digital campaign that — along with the influence of Russian bots — gave Trump the election; and foreign governments specifically sought to manipulate Kushner during the transition in what looks like an effort to take advantage of him, as well as Kushner’s desire to create business relationships on behalf of his company. Kushner has $1.2 billion in debt coming due next year. His debt has only grown since he began working for the White House, and Mueller is laser-focused on Kushner’s conversations with China during the transition.

It seems fairly obvious that Kushner has engaged in some shady practices and that an indictment may be in his future. But is Trump going to fire his own son-in-law? That’s unlikely, which is probably part of the reason why he’s keeping John Kelly, who Kushner and Ivanka have been pressuring Trump to fire. He’s not listening to his family because Trump wants Kelly to take care of his current and eventual Kushner problems, because he knows he can’t himself.

But he also eventually wants to get rid of Kelly, but as a friend of Trump noted, Trump “doesn’t have the balls” to fire Kelly. So, instead, Trump is pressuring National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to resign. Trump publicly rebuked McMaster last week, escalating tensions between the two, who are not particularly fond of each other. However, John Kelly and H.R. McMaster are allies in the White House, and if McMaster goes, there’s a sense among some that Kelly may resign.

Meanwhile, Trump is also applying more pressure on Kelly by bringing some of his old friends — Corey Lewandowski and Anthony Scaramucci — back into the White House fold, much to the chagrin of John Kelly. Trump is trying to reshape his working relationship with Kelly. No longer will he allow Kelly to completely control access to the President — he insists on giving Scaramucci and Lewandowski free reign inside the White House.

Basically, Trump has a lot of pressure points in place, and he’s just waiting to see which card falls first. If Kushner is indicted, he has Kelly to take care of that problem. If McMaster resigns, then that takes care of the Kelly problem. If Kelly resigns, then so to will McMaster, and then Trump will just bring in someone else to take care of Kushner.

The important thing for Trump here is that he won’t have to make any decision at all — all he has to do is leave everyone twisting in the wind and wait and see which aide will be forced out by outside forces first. In the Trump White House, it’s not if, it is when.

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