White House chief of staff Kelly to resign soon, reports say

(RNN) - White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and President Donald Trump have not spoken for days, and an active search for Kelly’s replacement is happening, according to multiple reports.

Axios reported Kelly’s departure is “imminent,” based on sources within the White House, and Nick Ayers is being strongly considered to replace him in the role. Ayers, 36, is currently the chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence.

Multiple sources also told CNN that Kelly is expected to leave the position in the coming days, with an “untenable” stalemate between him and the president. Reporters from multiple networks also noted the chief of staff did not hold a scheduled meeting Friday with senior staff.

Kelly rattled the White House status quo, and in particular the standing of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, with his overhaul of security clearance standards.

Like many other administration officials, he’s been regularly rumored to be under fire in the White House. Reports of his falling out with Trump came despite the president asking him during the summer to stay on until 2020.

Kelly took over as chief of staff on July 31, 2017, with a mandate to instill order and professionalism in a largely inexperienced White House staff beset by disorganization in the early days of the Trump presidency.

By many accounts he achieved that, formalizing the process by which Trump saw advisers and spoke to staff, and eventually reshuffling the West Wing pecking order, notably scaling back Kushner’s influence and ushering the departure of Steve Bannon in August 2017.

He denied April reports that he has insulted the president’s intelligence and was on the way out, but said, “Working in the White House is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, bar none,” he told NPR in a May 2018 interview.

In Bob Woodward’s book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” Kelly is said to have called Trump an “idiot,” saying “It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”

He denied those reports, too.

The temporary status of many clearance holders in the White House came under scrutiny when staff secretary Rob Porter resigned. Porter, accused by two ex-wives of violent domestic abuse, had been on such a clearance to fill his role.

The clearances are often necessary for close advisers to the president to be able to obtain the same information he has.

The staff secretary manages the flow of documents the president receives, including classified or otherwise sensitive ones. Porter had been issued the temporary clearance to perform the duties while his background check was being conducted.

Kushner, too, had fulfilled his own White House role on a temporary clearance since the president’s inauguration. On Feb. 27, Kelly revoked many temporary clearances of White House staff and downgraded Kushner’s to secret from top secret.

“The events of the last ten days have focused immense attention on a clearance process that has been in place for multiple administrations,” Kelly wrote in an earlier memo about the process, implicitly referencing the Porter episode. “We should, and in the future, must do better.”

Kelly was also scrutinized for his initial support of Porter following his Feb. 7 resignation, and faced questions about how long he had known of Porter's history.

In Porter's case, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that his bureau submitted a complete background investigation on Porter to the White House in July 2017.

Kelly's judgment was questioned when the chief of staff called Porter a “man of true integrity and honor” in response to The Daily Mail's Feb. 6 report on Porter’s history.

Afterward, Kelly released a new statement saying he was “shocked” by the allegations and that he felt “there is no place for domestic violence in our society.” News outlets, including CNN and the Washington Post, followed up with reports that Kelly had known about Porter’s history for months before February’s public revelations.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that day she could not be 100 percent certain that Kelly and Donald McGahn II, the White House counsel, were not aware of the issue months before they had publicly acknowledged it. Kelly remained defiant, telling the Wall Street Journal that his response to the situation “was all done right.”

"I think you've seen less backbiting," Ken Duberstein, a chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan, said of Kelly's early effect on the White House.

He was first drafted into the Trump administration as Secretary of Homeland Security. He served fewer than 200 days in the role before Trump tapped him to replace Reince Priebus.

Prior to his civilian positions in the government, Kelly was commander of U.S. Southern Command during the Obama presidency. He held the post, responsible for overseeing operations in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean, from 2012 until his retirement as a four-star Marine general in 2016.

Before that, his service included a stint under then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta from 2011-12; and he commanded Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North from 2009-11. He fought in Iraq during deployments from 2002-04 and later returned there in a command role in 2008.

In 2010 Kelly's son, Robert, was killed in action in Afghanistan.

Kelly enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1970 and served two years before going to the University of Massachusetts. He graduated in 1976 and was soon after commissioned as an officer.

He was born in May 1950 in Boston, MA, and grew up in the city's Brighton neighborhood. He has been married since 1976, and the couple have two surviving children, including another Marine, John.

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