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John Kelly out as White House chief of staff

Kelly was once championed as a stabilizing force in the White House, but has since found himself at the center of multiple controversies.

Chief of staff John Kelly is out at the White House. (Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Chief of staff John Kelly is out at the White House. (Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

White House chief of staff John Kelly will step down from his post by the end of the year, President Trump said Saturday, one day after sources familiar with the situation told reporters the former Homeland Security chief’s departure was imminent.

Trump announced the decision before a group of reporters at the White House, according to The New York Times, adding he would “announce a replacement for Mr. Kelly in the next day or two.”

It was not immediately clear whether Kelly had resigned or been fired.

According to a CNN report earlier in the week, Trump and Kelly’s nearly two-year relationship had “reached a stalemate” in recent days and was no longer productive. The two men had also reportedly stopped speaking.

Axios was the first to report rumors of Kelly’s departure on Friday morning.

Trump and Kelly’s working relationship has waxed and waned over the past 17 months, with several outlets noting Kelly — who reportedly tried to resign previously — had been asked to remain on staff through the end of Trump’s first term in office, as recently as this past summer. Trump reportedly asked Kelly to stay on through 2024, but Kelly refused, agreeing only to commit to two more years.

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Kelly, a former military officer, was first nominated to serve as Trump’s Homeland Security secretary in December 2016, and was confirmed on the same day as Trump’s inauguration. Sources familiar with the transition told Philly.com that Kelly was appointed due to his “southwest border expertise” and his stances on cross-border threats from South and Central America.

He continued in the role through late July 2017, overseeing some of the administration’s harshest policies, including the highly criticized travel ban, which barred people from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, and a sharp reduction in the number of refugees allowed into the country each year.

On July 28, Kelly was appointed White House chief of staff, replacing outgoing chief of staff Reince Priebus, who had been pushed out that same day following a chaotic six-month tenure.

At the time, Kelly was expected to herald in a sea change within the White House, with supporters suggesting he would rein in an otherwise out of control staff and implement some semblance of order in the West Wing. He quickly made waves, ordering the firing of Anthony Scaramucci, who had served as the White House communications director for 10 days before being ousted. Trump had previously appointed Scaramucci against Priebus’ will.

Since then, however, Kelly’s influence at the White House has diminished. The outgoing chief of staff found himself at the center of several controversies, including statements he made claiming a “lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.”

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In January 2018, Kelly and Trump also sparred publicly over the president’s thinking on a U.S.-Mexico border wall, with Kelly insisting to a group of Democratic lawmakers — members of the Hispanic Caucus — that Trump had evolved on the issue. Trump fired back publicly via Twitter.

“The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it,” he wrote.

(In that same tweet, the president also suggested parts of the wall would be “see through,” and that it would be paid for, in full, by Mexico.)

Kelly was also caught up in a controversy the following month involving a spate of domestic violence allegations against then-White House staff secretary Rob Porter, whose two ex-wives and former girlfriend had accused him of physically assaulting them.

Though Kelly initially defended Porter, calling him a “man of true integrity and honor” and saying he had not known about the incidents when he hired Porter, questions later arose as to whether Kelly had discovered the allegations during the process of Porter’s background investigation to obtain a security clearance. Kelly denied knowing about the the accusations beforehand, and insisted he had fired Porter as soon as he learned about them.

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Trump and Kelly’s relationship deteriorated further in June, after the latter was quoted by an unnamed source as saying the White House under Trump was “a miserable place to work.” At the time, Kelly was considered one of several administration members on the chopping block following the November midterm elections. He later joined former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was fired on November 7, one day after the midterms.

Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, is widely believed to be Kelly’s replacement, according to Axios. The outlet reported Friday that Ayers has the backing of Jared Kushner and the first daughter Ivanka, both of whom serve as senior advisers to the president. He has faced criticism from several senior White House staffers who believe he is unqualified for the job, including counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, CNN reported in November. Conway has since denied that report.

With additional reporting by Esther Yu Hsi Lee