When John Kelly joined the White House in July, one of his first orders of business was to cut off access for a motley crew of Donald Trump boosters and aides who, he and others felt, served only to distract the president.
With Kelly’s job appearing to be in peril, his old targets are now salivating at the prospect of his demise.
It’s the revenge of the Trump-world B-team. And it illustrates the degree to which the divisions and infighting within the Trump world’s broad orbit may be pushed out of public view but never, actually, go away.
Chief among Kelly’s public detractors this week has been Anthony Scaramucci, the former White House communications director whom Kelly and Trump canned in late July on Kelly’s first —and Scaramucci’s eleventh—day on the job.
In the aftermath of allegations that former White House staff secretary Rob Porter abused his two ex-wives, Scaramucci took aim at Kelly’s insistence that the White House had acted swiftly to oust the embattled aide. Kelly “almost certainly knew” about the allegations long before he claimed, Scaramucci declared on Twitter on Tuesday. “Inexcusable,” he wrote. “Kelly must resign.”
Scaramucci was not randomly lashing out. In fact, five sources in and outside of the White House familiar with their conversations, tell The Daily Beast that he’s been in direct contact with Trump over at least the last month.
Three of those sources, one a White House official and the others close Trump allies, told The Daily Beast that Scaramucci received phone calls from President Trump in January, just as the former comms chief began going on TV to bash former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon for the scorched-earth interview he gave for Michael Wolff’s book on the Trump White House. (Bannon and Scaramucci, for their part, had previously feuded.)
Though Scaramucci had left the White House on such bad terms that the president earnestly asked if he was “on drugs,” Trump was pleased by the cable hits. He called Scaramucci to discuss and review them, knowledgeable sources say. And in at least one conversation, he told Scaramucci that he wasn’t brutal enough in his criticisms of Bannon.
The dialogue continued from there. A source with knowledge of the exchange said Scaramucci told the president that he would be sending his tweets critical of Kelly. After they touched base, Scaramucci put out his social media missive calling for the chief of staff’s ouster. One West Wing official simply dubbed this saga, “The Mooch’s revenge.”
Those close to Scaramucci maintain that he is not, in fact, angling for another job in the Trump administration, but instead has his sights set on the world of television and entertainment.
“His focus right now is on becoming a mini Ryan Seacrest,” Laura Goldman, a self-described “unlikely” Scaramucci friend, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
The White House did not return requests for comment. Scaramucci did not respond to multiple requests either.
But the former comms director is far from the only one-time Trump insider who has found his critical voice in the wake of Kelly’s fall from grace. Roger Stone, a longtime Trump associate, told The Daily Beast that he believed Kelly should be fired for his handling of the Porter episode. Stone added his displeasure that Kelly has sought “to cut the President off from those who supported him.”
Prominent pre-White House names such as Corey Lewandowski and Chris Christie have gotten in on the action as well. “Where the buck stops, at the end of the day, I guess is with the general,” Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, said in a Fox News appearance last week. “This is about competence,” said Christie, the former New Jersey governor, said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday. “And you have to, as chief of staff, be able to competently run the place.”
Inside the administration, trust in Kelly has eroded too. Aides say that the Porter saga has been one of the most trying of the presidency, made worse by the chief of staff’s bungled handling of the matter. Kelly initially issued a vehement defense of Porter when The Daily Mail reported on the allegations. But he later insisted that he had moved swiftly to fire Porter, and instructed White House subordinates to promote a more friendly chain of events—one that ran directly counter to the White House’s own public statements.
Leaks about the timeline of Kelly’s actions have become rampant, as has discussion about who would potentially replace him. Bill Daley, Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, said he believed that Kelly could ultimately survive the episode. But he noted that the distrust within the building could prove difficult to overcome. When asked whether he thought Kelly could effectively serve as Chief of Staff, Daley let out an audible sigh, paused, and then conceded: “I don’t know.”
“Maybe Trump would like Kelly staying around because he is so weakened and you won’t have any more of these stories that Kelly is the strong man, holding the entire thing together, saving the world from Donald Trump,” Daley added. “There won’t be any more of those stories. So, who knows. Maybe Trump would like the diminished Kelly.”
Behind the scenes, some in the White House believe that it was a member of that same Trump-world B-team who landed Kelly in that unfortunate position to begin with. Last week, multiple White House officials informed Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Porter’s former employer, that they believed Lewandowski was behind a “smear campaign” targeting the now resigned staff secretary—and, by extension, Kelly. Lewandowski, who continues to advise Trump from the outside, denied the charge.
Right-wing media fixtures indignant at Kelly’s success as a presidential gatekeeper were giddy at the Porter news. Kelly had tasked his former aide, Porter, with controlling the paper flow into the Oval Office. It was one of Kelly’s first moves as chief of staff, and he succeeded for the most part in blocking Trump aides from “triggering” the president with stories from conspiratorial websites such as InfoWars and tabloid media gossip.
“He’s been credited with working with the chief of staff to control the flow of information to the president,” said popular talk radio host Rush Limbaugh last week, referring to Porter. “And what that means is that Trump gets less Breitbart and less InfoWars and more Politico and more mainstream news.”
In a Facebook post last week, right-wing troll Chuck Johnson said Porter had banned his website, GotNews.com, from the White House.
“Next time don't beat your wives,” Johnson said.” Let this be a lesson."