By the end of his tenure as White House chief of staff, it was no secret that John Kelly and President Donald Trump didn't see eye to eye on how the country should be governed. And in Kelly's first public appearance since leaving the White House, he made a pretty shocking comment about his former boss' 2016 opponent. John Kelly would have worked for Hillary Clinton if she'd won the presidency and asked him, Kelly told an audience at Duke University this week.
“If Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, and she had called me and said, ‘I really need a good chief of staff here,’ I’d have probably done it,” Kelly said during a question and answer session, which ABC News obtained an audio recording of. “Politics aside, it’s all about governing the country.”
When asked about what advice he would give the current acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, Kelly said to “run for it,” which provoked audience laughter, according to Mediaite. He then added that Mulvaney should tell the president “what he needs to hear.”
According to multiple reports that came out during Kelly's time as Trump's chief of staff, following this advice didn't seem to ingratiate him with Trump. By the end of his time in the White House, there were even reports that Kelly and the president weren't speaking to each other.
In his talk at Duke, Kelly recognized that he viewed the job as incredibly important, despite any difficulties.
"[Being chief of staff] was an incredibly hard job; it was the least enjoyable job I've ever had,” Kelly said, according to The Chronicle, Duke's student paper. “But it was the most important thing I've ever done in my life.”
In saying this, Kelly was echoing his own sentiment from a previous interview that he gave to The Los Angeles Times, in which he called the position a "bone-crushing hard job." Kelly's talk at Duke did cover new ground, though, especially regarding his claim that he would have worked for a hypothetical President Hillary Clinton. He gave another description of Trump, too.
“By no means is he a stupid man," Kelly told the audience at Duke. "He's an accomplished businessman, and he's got all the education and whatnot, but not everybody is an expert on everything."
In his first public talk after leaving the White House, Kelly emphasized that for him, the job wasn't about politics, but rather about duty — another element that he's discussed before.
“Love 'em or hate 'em, whoever it happens to be, once they become president it is our best interest as a people to assist him or her as much as we can to become successful," Kelly said after stating that he probably would have worked for Clinton.
This talk was more measured than previous statements Kelly has reportedly made about the job, like when The Washington Post published highlights from Cliff Sims' tell-all book, Team of Vipers, and included a telling line from Kelly.
“This is the worst [expletive] job I’ve ever had. People apparently think that I care when they write that I might be fired," Kelly said, according to Sims' book. "If that ever happened, it would be the best day I’ve had since I walked into this place.”