At an event Thursday, John Kelly "joked" that God is punishing him for past sins by making the four-star general serve as President Trump's chief of staff. Kelly was at a ceremony celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security, which he led before stepping into his current position as Trump's right-hand man.
"The last thing I wanted to do was walk away from one of the great honors of my life, being the Secretary of Homeland Security," Kelly told the audience. "But I did something wrong and God punished me, I guess." The comment drew laughter from the crowd.
Kelly was secretary of Homeland Security for the first six months of Trump's term before being plucked from that position to serve as the president's chief of staff. For quite some time, Kelly was perceived by many observers as one of the few steady hands preventing a perpetually wayward White House from going off the rails, the "adult in the room," as some put it.
But his reputation as such took a serious hit during the recent scandal surrounding Rob Porter, the now-former White House aide accused of assaulting both his ex-wives. Porter vehemently denies all accusations of abuse, saying in a statement that "outrageous allegations are simply false."
After reports surfaced that Porter had allegedly punched one of his ex-wives in the face, Kelly released a statement calling Porter "a man of true integrity and honor" and, rather than calling for his resignation, said that he was "proud to serve alongside him." The general later said that he didn't know all of the accusations against Porter at the time, and was "shocked by the new allegations." However, CNN debunked this claim the next day when it reported that Kelly and several other top White House staffers had known about the claims against Porter for months. Kelly drew additional criticism when, after all of this, he told the Wall Street Journal that the White House's response to the Porter episode "was all done right."
Kelly's reputation appears to have been seriously damaged by his handling of the Porter affair, even among Republicans. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a sometimes critic of Trump, told CNBC that the Porter allegations were "handled extremely poorly," and that the president wasn't "well-served" by Kelly during the scandal. Anthony "The Mooch" Scaramucci, the former White House communications director who was fired by Kelly, flatly accused the chief of staff of leading a cover-up.
“He had the information [about Porter]," Scaramucci said on CNN Thursday. "He tried to cover up the information. He tried to get other people inside the White House to cover up the information for him." In a separate interview with Bloomberg News, Scaramucci referred to Kelly as "General Jackass," and said there will be an "evacuation of talent" at the White House if he remains chief of staff.
"The guy is a bad dude,” Scaramucci said of Kelly. “Fear and intimidation doesn’t work in a civilian organization. If he had any honor, he’d resign."
Although there are no signs that Kelly will resign anytime in the immediate future, he and his boss have butted heads on occasion. According to CNN, Trump was "fuming" in January after Kelly told Fox News that the president had "changed his attitude" on a border wall between the United States and Mexico. That same month, Vanity Fair reported that Trump referred to Kelly as a "nut job" who "thinks he's running things." There have also been reports that Kelly disapproves of Ivanka Trump's role in the White House, with CNN reporting that Kelly thinks the president's daughter, in her capacity as a top adviser, is merely "playing government."
In February, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway said that Trump has "full confidence" in Kelly. Then again, Conway said the same thing about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn almost exactly one year ago — just hours before Flynn resigned.