Trump said retired Gen. John Kelly 'got eaten alive' as White House chief of staff after reports claimed he made rude remarks at the grave of Kelly's son

  • President Donald Trump said his former chief of staff, retired Gen. John Kelly, was "eaten alive" and "unable to handle the pressure of this job" at a Friday press briefing.
  • The president's comments follow a Thursday report from The Atlantic that Trump skipped a visit to a World War I veteran cemetery in 2018, telling senior staff: "Why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers."
  • The report also said Trump made uncomfortable remarks to Kelly during a 2017 visit to Arlington National Cemetery.
  • As the two stood beside Kelly's son's grave, Trump reportedly turned to Kelly and said: "I don't get it. What was in it for them?"
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President Donald Trump's 2018 decision not to visit a World War I veteran cemetery in Paris has reignited tension with his former chief of staff John Kelly. At a Friday press briefing, Trump reiterated old claims that Kelly was ill-equipped for his post.

"He was with me, didn't do a good job, had no temperament, and ultimately he was petered out," Trump said. "He got eaten alive. He was unable to handle the pressure of this job."

The president's comments follow a Thursday report from The Atlantic that Trump didn't find it important to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery two years ago, telling senior staff at the time: "Why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers."

Kelly, a retired four-star Marine Corps general and Trump's longest-serving chief of staff, attended the event along with other world leaders. When Trump received public backlash for his absence, he privately blamed Kelly for telling him he could defer the invitation due to inclement weather, Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig wrote in their book, "A Very Stable Genius."

"I could've f—— gone!" Trump reportedly told aides. "I was willing to go! They're killing me for it!" 

Trump also made insensitive remarks to Kelly during a visit to Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2017, the Atlantic reported Thursday.

On the trip, the two stopped at the grave of Kelly's son, 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. While they were standing there, Trump reportedly turned to Kelly and said: "I don't get it. What was in it for them?"

Sources close to Kelly told The Atlantic he initially thought the president was commenting on the selflessness of America's service members. Later, they added, the retired general came to believe that Trump didn't understand the idea of personal sacrifice.

Kelly has stayed mum on the incidents at both cemeteries after declining to comment to The Atlantic. The White House called the reports "just another anonymously sourced story meant to tear down a Commander-in-Chief."

But there have been prior reports of tension between Trump and the retired general.

Kelly previously compared having to refuse Trump's requests to "French kissing a chainsaw," according to New York Times correspondent Michael Schmidt's book, "Donald Trump v. The United States: Inside the Struggle to Stop a President."

"Kelly has told others that Trump wanted to behave like an authoritarian and repeatedly had to be restrained and told what he could and could not legally do," Schmidt wrote.

In 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported that Kelly used to mute the phone line during Trump's calls with world leaders to tell him to stop discussing sensitive information. Then in February, Kelly defended a key witness in Trump's impeachment inquiry, retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

Shortly after, Trump blasted Kelly on Twitter.

"When I terminated John Kelly, which I couldn't do fast enough, he knew full well that he was way over his head. Being Chief of Staff just wasn't for him," Trump wrote. "He came in with a bang, went out with a whimper, but like so many X's, he misses the action [and] just can't keep his mouth shut."

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