White House chief of staff John Kelly told NPR in an interview that aired Friday that he has never considered leaving his position, despite frequent speculation to the contrary, and that his only regret is not taking on the key administration role earlier.
"In retrospect, I wish I had been here from day one," Kelly said in his interview. "I think in some cases in terms of staffing or serving the president that first six months was pretty chaotic and there were some people hired that maybe shouldn't have."
"It's not that things were a disaster that first six months but I believe they could have been better," the chief of staff continued.
Kelly conceded that his job comes with “times of great frustration” mostly stemming from reporting about the administration that he views as unfair treatment of himself and “others that I think the world of.”
President Donald Trump, Kelly said, is a “super smart guy” with whom he has “a close relationship.” The chief of staff said the president sometimes agrees with him and sometimes does not, but always listens to his opinion.
News stories speculating that Kelly will leave the White House have followed the chief of staff since nearly the time he took the position. It came to a head in February after Kelly gave apparently inconsistent accounts of when he was briefed on the resignation of former staff secretary Rob Porter, who was accused of domestic violence.
Kelly agreed with the president that the Russia probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller has been fruitless, telling NPR that after a year of investigating, a lack of public evidence tying Trump to the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election suggests that no such evidence exists. The chief of staff said the investigation is not a cloud over the administration but that Trump is “somewhat embarrassed” by it, especially when it comes up in conversation with visiting foreign leaders.
With the president scheduled to fly to Singapore next month for a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Kelly said Trump is approaching the face-to-face with “his eyes wide open.” North Korean leaders have a history of seeking to exact concessions in negotiations without truly offering any of their own, but Kelly said Trump will not be “strung along” like past U.S. presidents.
Asked about the administration’s move to separate families who attempt to immigrate illegally into the U.S., Kelly said he was “sympathetic” to the motives of the majority of border-crossers, whom he said are mostly “not bad people.” But individuals attempting to illegally come to the United States are mostly poorly educated, non-English speakers from rural parts of their home countries, meaning they are unlikely to assimilate well into the U.S.
Separating families, Kelly suggested, amounts to a deterrent that he said he hopes will not be extensively needed.
“They're not bad people. They're coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws,” Kelly said. “The big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States, and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.”