Feb 13, 2020 - Politics & Policy

John Kelly unloads on Trump's foreign policy toward Ukraine, North Korea

John Kelly in 2018. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Pool/Getty Images

Former White House chief of staff John Kelly took aim Wednesday at President Trump's foreign policy during an event at New Jersey's Drew University, The Atlantic reports.

The state of play: Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, defended Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman's decision to testify during the impeachment inquiry and said Trump's decision to condition military aid to Ukraine to investigate political rivals overturned long-standing U.S. policy.

  • "Up until that phone call, the policy of the U.S. was militarily to support Ukraine in their defensive fight against … the Russians," he said.
  • "And so, when the president said that continued support would be based on X, that essentially changed. And that’s what [Vindman] was most interested in."
  • "[Vindman] did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave. He went and told his boss what he just heard."

What he said:

  • On North Korea: "Again, President Trump tried — that’s one way to put it. But it didn’t work. I’m an optimist most of the time, but I’m also a realist, and I never did think Kim would do anything other than play us for a while, and he did that fairly effectively."
  • On immigration: "[T]hey’re overwhelmingly good people. … They’re not all rapists and they’re not all murderers. And it’s wrong to characterize them that way. I disagreed with the president a number of times."
  • On Eddie Gallagher: "The idea that the commander in chief intervened there, in my opinion, was exactly the wrong thing to do. Had I been there, I think I could have prevented it."

Reality check: Some of Kelly's statements now don't align with his public statements during his time in the administration.

  • On North Korea in 2018: "I know [Trump] won't fall for it in the same way that past presidents have, that get strung along, strung along lifting sanctions, giving them money, and get nothing for it."
  • On immigration in 2018: "They're also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States into our modern society. ... They don't speak English; obviously that's a big thing. ... They don't integrate well. They don't have skills."

Go deeper... John Kelly: Impeachment without witnesses "seems like a half trial

Go deeper

Trump fires back at John Kelly: He "just can't keep his mouth shut"

Hours after former White House chief of staff John Kelly unleashed broad criticism of President Trump's policy decisions, the president fired back, saying that Kelly "misses the action" and "just can’t keep his mouth shut" in a pair of Thursday tweets.

The big picture: At a New Jersey event, Kelly said that Trump's decision to condition military aid to Ukraine to investigate political rivals overturned long-standing U.S. policy and bashed the president's recent moves on North Korea and immigration.

John Kelly: Impeachment without witnesses "seems like a half trial"

Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said Friday that the Senate impeachment proceedings for President Trump seem "like a half trial" without witnesses, according to NJ.com.

Context: Kelly's statement comes on the same day the New York Times detailed a portion of former national security adviser John Bolton's unpublished book in which he reportedly writes that Trump asked Bolton to ensure that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would meet with Rudy Giuliani. Kelly described Bolton as a "copious note taker" and "an honest guy and an honorable guy."

Trump justifies firing Alexander Vindman for being "insubordinate"

President Trump. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump tweeted on Saturday morning to explain why he fired national security official Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who had testified before the House Intelligence Committee that the president's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was "improper."

"I don't know [Vindman], never spoke to him or met him (I don't believe!) but, he was very insubordinate, reported contents of my 'perfect' calls incorrectly.......and was given a horrendous report by his superior, the man he reported to, who publicly stated that Vindman had problems with judgement, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information. In other words, 'OUT.'"