John Kelly, who is the longest-serving White House chief of staff during Donald Trump’s presidency, provided his most scathing critique of the former president in an exclusive statement to CNN.
In his statement, Kelly unequivocally confirmed several troubling accounts regarding Trump’s private remarks targeting American service members and veterans. He recounted a series of distressing comments that he personally witnessed Trump make behind closed doors.
“What can I add that has not already been said?” Kelly questioned when prompted to offer his perspective on his former boss in light of recent comments made by other former Trump officials. He continued, “A person that thinks those who defend their country in uniform, or are shot down or seriously wounded in combat, or spend years being tortured as POWs are all ‘suckers’ because ‘there is nothing in it for them.’ A person that did not want to be seen in the presence of military amputees because ‘it doesn’t look good for me.’ A person who demonstrated open contempt for a Gold Star family – for all Gold Star families – on TV during the 2016 campaign, and rants that our most precious heroes who gave their lives in America’s defense are ‘losers’ and wouldn’t visit their graves in France.
“A person who is not truthful regarding his position on the protection of unborn life, on women, on minorities, on evangelical Christians, on Jews, on working men and women,” Kelly continued. “A person that has no idea what America stands for and has no idea what America is all about. A person who cavalierly suggests that a selfless warrior who has served his country for 40 years in peacetime and war should lose his life for treason – in expectation that someone will take action. A person who admires autocrats and murderous dictators. A person that has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law.
“There is nothing more that can be said,” Kelly concluded. “God help us.”
In his statement, Kelly affirmed, on the record, several details from a 2020 story in The Atlantic by editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg. This included Trump’s remarks on Memorial Day 2017 while they were at Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 60, where Trump questioned, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”
The statement also encompassed Trump’s apparent inability to comprehend why the American public respects former prisoners of war and those shot down in combat. Kelly mentioned Trump’s prior comment in 2015 regarding Senator John McCain and his derogatory remarks about former President George H. W. Bush (both had been in similar situations).
When CNN reached out to the Trump campaign for comment, they chose to disparage the character and credibility of retired Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley, who was not involved in the story. An updated statement from a Trump campaign spokesperson criticized Kelly’s comments.
The statement by Kelly provided additional context to a story in the book The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021 by Susan Glasser and Peter Baker. In that story, Trump expressed his desire to exclude wounded veterans from a military parade in his honor, stating, “Look, I don’t want any wounded guys in the parade,” despite Kelly’s assertion that these wounded veterans were heroes.
Kelly also alluded to Trump’s response to a recent story in The Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg profiling General Mark Milley. In that story, Trump expressed discomfort at seeing severely wounded Army Captain Luis Avila during an event. Milley’s reassurances to the Chinese military in the closing days of the Trump presidency were also referenced, which Trump later criticized on his social media platform.
This statement from Kelly comes in the wake of former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s interview with CNN, where she warned of Trump’s threat to democracy. Kelly’s statement echoed concerns about Trump’s treatment of decorated service members and his overall fitness for the role of commander-in-chief.
Other former Trump administration officials, including Mark Esper and Bill Barr, have previously voiced their criticisms of Trump’s fitness for office, citing issues of ego, narcissism, and prioritizing personal interests over the country’s welfare.