Outgoing White House Chief of Staff John Kelly took aim at President Donald Trump's border wall in his "exit interview" with the Los Angeles Times, but defended the president, countering media claims that Trump often acts without knowing the consequences of his decisions.
In an extended interview with the LA Times, Kelly told reporters that the president routinely consults multiple sources of information before making a decision, even if it often seems like Trump acts without regard for consequences.
"It’s never been: The president just wants to make a decision based on no knowledge and ignorance,” Kelly said. “You may not like his decision, but at least he was fully informed on the impact.”
But Kelly also took credit for whipping the White House into shape and imposing a sense of order on the Trump administration's central organizational hub — something Kelly says was clearly missing when he first entered the job in 2017. Kelly added that he feels his tenure was successful because he helped the president view his actions through a lens that wasn't tainted by politics, a benefit, Kelly says, of his own military training.
Kelly also defended the president from claims that he's uncontrollable because the president still tweets, even amid political strife.
But Kelly wasn't willing to defend every action of the Trump White House. In his interview, Kelly was surprisingly critical of President Donald Trump's signature anti-illegal immigration effort, the border wall — an issue currently at the forefront of national politics and the crux of Trump's current budget stalemate with Congress.
“To be honest, it’s not a wall,” Kelly told the LA Times, upending an ongoing talking point from the White House that billions are needed to construct a massive, physical wall on the border between the United States and Mexico.
“The president still says ‘wall’ — oftentimes frankly he’ll say ‘barrier’ or ‘fencing,’ now he’s tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it," Kelly continued.
Members of the media were quick to pounce on Kelly's comments, taking them as critical of the administration's plan.
“To be honest, it’s not a wall,” John Kelly told the LA Times in an interview. The last time Kelly went on Fox and said the president was “uninformed” on the wall during the campaign, Trump shouted at him so loudly it could be heard outside Oval. This time, Kelly is out.— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) December 30, 2018
"To be honest, it's not a wall," John Kelly tells the LA Times. "The president still says 'wall' — oftentimes frankly he'll say 'barrier' or 'fencing,' now he's tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration." https://t.co/rMxBqfKDPp— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) December 30, 2018
But Kelly's assessment of the "wall" isn't nearly as critical as left-leaning media, particularly on social media, might have readers believe. In fact, Kelly is clear that the White House — and particularly the Department of Homeland Security — worked directly with members of the Customs and Border Protection force to determine what the best design for a so-called "border wall" might be.
"When Kelly led Homeland Security in early 2017, one of his first steps was to seek advice from those who 'actually secure the border'; Customs and Border Protection agents who Kelly calls 'salt-of-the-earth, Joe-Six-Pack folks,'" the LA Times reports.
“They said, ‘Well we need a physical barrier in certain places, we need technology across the board, and we need more people,’” he added.
The White House is still in the midst of a battle over funding for the border wall, which is expected to pick up Wednesday when Congress returns to Washington, D.C. after their holiday. By then, Kelly will be gone. He is due to depart his job as Chief of Staff the same day.