John Kelly, the former White House chief of staff under Donald Trump, has delivered a scathing critique of the ex-president in an exclusive statement to CNN. Kelly chose to set the record straight by confirming, on the record, several troubling accounts of remarks made by Trump behind closed doors, targeting U.S. service members and veterans. Kelly recounted a series of objectionable comments that he personally witnessed Trump make.
When asked to weigh in on his former boss, Kelly responded, “What can I add that has not already been said?” He proceeded to highlight Trump’s derogatory attitudes towards those who serve in the military and veterans. Kelly recalled Trump referring to them as “suckers” and insinuating that there was nothing in it for them. Trump’s reluctance to be seen with military amputees was another point of concern for Kelly. Additionally, Kelly emphasized Trump’s open contempt for Gold Star families during the 2016 campaign and his derogatory comments about fallen heroes.
Kelly continued to outline his grievances, noting Trump’s lack of honesty on various issues, including the protection of unborn life, women’s rights, minority rights, evangelical Christians, Jews, and the working class. Kelly expressed his belief that Trump had a fundamental misunderstanding of American values and principles. He accused Trump of showing admiration for autocrats and murderous dictators while displaying contempt for democratic institutions, the Constitution, and the rule of law.
In conclusion, Kelly remarked, “There is nothing more that can be said,” before adding, “God help us.”
Kelly’s statement serves as confirmation, on the record, of several details from a 2020 article in The Atlantic by editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg. This includes an incident where Trump, standing at Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 60 on Memorial Day 2017, questioned, “What was in it for them?” regarding the soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Atlantic article also delved into Trump’s inability to comprehend the respect given to former prisoners of war and those shot down in combat. Trump’s public dismissal of Senator John McCain’s war hero status and his private labeling of McCain and former President George H. W. Bush as “losers” are among the details confirmed by Kelly.
CNN reached out to the Trump campaign for comment, revealing that a former administration official had confirmed details from The Atlantic’s 2020 story without naming Kelly. The Trump campaign responded by attacking the character and credibility of retired Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley, who was not involved in the story. A Trump campaign spokesperson later dismissed Kelly’s statement as “debunked stories.”
Kelly’s statement also sheds light on a story from the book “The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021,” by Susan Glasser and Peter Baker. In this account, Trump expressed his desire to exclude wounded veterans from a military parade planned in his honor. Trump’s reasoning was that their presence did not “look good for me.” Kelly emphasized that wounded veterans are heroes, and their exclusion contradicted societal values.
This revelation aligns with a recent article by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, profiling retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. The article recounted Trump’s discomfort upon seeing severely wounded Army Captain Luis Avila singing “God Bless America” at an event. Trump’s reaction was, “Why do you bring people like that here? No one wants to see that, the wounded.”
Kelly’s statement also alludes to a comment made by Trump in response to the same article. This article, published in the final days of Trump’s presidency in 2020, detailed how General Milley received intelligence suggesting that the Chinese military was concerned that Trump might order a military strike against them. Acting with authorization from Trump administration officials, Milley reassured his Chinese counterparts that such an attack was not imminent.
In 2021, the revelation of this phone call was first made public in the book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. However, Trump recently commented on his social media platform, characterizing the call as “an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH.”
When asked about the suggestion that he deserves execution, Milley declined to provide a direct response but emphasized his commitment to upholding the Constitution in an interview with Norah O’Donnell on “60 Minutes.”
Kelly’s statement to CNN follows an interview with former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who was promoting her new book, “Enough.” During the interview, Hutchinson issued a warning to the public, stating that “Donald Trump is the most grave threat we will face to our democracy in our lifetime, and potentially in American history.”
Interestingly, Hutchinson’s book, “Enough,” includes a scene in which she and then-White House communications director Alyssa Farah Griffin push back against Goldberg’s 2020 story. Griffin had issued a statement to The Atlantic after the story was published, denying its accuracy.
In response to inquiries over the weekend, Griffin remarked, “Despite publicly praising the military and claiming to be the most pro-military president, there’s a demonstrable record of Trump bashing the most decorated service members in our country, from Gen. Mattis to Kelly to Milley, to criticizing the wounded or deceased like John McCain. Donald Trump will fundamentally never understand service the way those who have actually served in uniform will, and it’s one of the countless reasons he’s unfit to be commander in chief.”
It is noteworthy that no other presidential candidate in history has faced such significant criticism from former members of his inner circle. Mark Esper, Trump’s former secretary of defense, conveyed his view to CNN in November 2022, stating, “I think he’s unfit for office. … He puts himself before country. His actions are all about him and not about the country. And then, of course, I believe he has integrity and character issues as well.”
Similarly, Trump’s former attorney general, Bill Barr, shared his perspective with CBS in June, characterizing Trump as “a consummate narcissist” who consistently engages in reckless behavior. Barr emphasized that Trump prioritizes his own interests and ego above all else, including the country’s interests, rendering him unfit for leadership.