White House chief of staff John Kelly said that President Donald Trump is “embarrassed, frankly” about the investigation being carried out by special Robert Mueller into alleged collusion between the president’s 2016 campaign team and Russian officials.
In a rare interview, Mr Kelly told NPR: “There may not be a cloud, but certainly the president is, you know, somewhat embarrassed, frankly. When world leaders come in, it’s kind of like you know [Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu] is here and he – who’s under investigation himself – and it’s like, you know, you walk in and you know the first couple of minutes of every conversation might revolve around that kind of thing”.
Mr Kelly did not directly say the Russia probe is a “witch hunt,” as the president has tweeted several times, but noted: “something that has gone on this long without any real meat on the bone, it suggests to me that there is nothing there, relative to our president”.
The former four-star Marine corps general said he spent five to eight hours a day with Mr Trump, who still refers to Mr Kelly by his military title “general”. Despite recent rumours that Mr Kelly called the president “an idiot,” the second chief of staff after Reince Priebus left last August said he thinks Mr Trump is a “super smart guy” and that the pair have a “close relationship”.
“My view is to speak truth to power. I always give my opinion on everything. He always listens. Sometimes he takes the opinion, sometimes he doesn’t,” Mr Kelly said, adding that his only regret is that he did not take the position of running operations of the Oval office sooner.
The Trump White House was a place of tumult through much of his first year in office. Mr Priebus, press secretary Sean Spicer, advisor Steve Bannon, and the short-lived communications director Anthony Scaramucci were among those who departed in dramatic fashion. Mr Kelly said: “it’s not that things were a disaster that first six months, but I believe they could have been better…the White House was less organised than our president deserved.” He had been serving as Secretary of Homeland Security prior to his current position.
When asked about rumours that Mr Kelly was also on his way out, he said an emphatic “no” and though there are “times of great frustration” they were mainly due to news reports about himself or colleagues that made him “wonder whether it’s worth it to be subjected to that”.
The interview was long-ranging, covering the president’s recent decision for the US to not participate in the Iran nuclear deal and place new sanctions on Tehran with which Mr Kelly agreed and his upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on 12 June in Singapore.
While critics have worried about the president’s lack of experience in diplomacy, his chief of staff is not, noting that Mr Trump has his “eyes wide open” with regards to Mr Kim. Mr Kelly said past presidents had been “strung along” by North Korea’s promises to halt developing its nuclear weapons programme, but not this one.