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Photo credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

In an exit interview with the L.A. Times, White House chief of staff John Kelly argued that his tenure is "best measured by what the president did not do when Kelly was at his side," including a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, immigration and security reporter Molly O'Toole writes.

The bottom line: "Trump sometimes pressed his advisors on the limits of his authority under the law, often asking Kelly, 'Why can’t we do it this way?’ But Trump never ordered him to do anything illegal, Kelly stressed," O'Toole writes. Kelly leaves Wednesday after 17 months in the West Wing.

As for the border wall, which is at the center of debate during the government shutdown: "To be honest, it’s not a wall," Kelly said.

  • O'Toole writes that one of Kelly's first acts after becoming secretary of Homeland Security in early 2017 was to "seek advice from those who 'actually secure the border,' Customs and Border Protection agents who Kelly calls 'salt-of-the-earth...'"
  • Those people told Kelly that the U.S. needs "a physical barrier in certain places, we need technology across the board, and we need more people.'"
  • Kelly told O'Toole: "The president still says 'wall' — [increasingly] he’ll say 'barrier' or 'fencing,' now he’s tended toward steel slats. But we [abandoned the idea of] a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it."

"Asked if there is a security crisis at the Southern border, or whether Trump has drummed up fears of a migrant 'invasion' for political reasons, Kelly did not answer directly, but said, 'We do have an immigration problem,'" O'Tool writes.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a powerful and potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring an array of hazards, from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten coastal property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Republican-led Pennsylvania court deems mail-in voting law unconstitutional

Workers count ballots for the 2020 Presidential election at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Nov. 3, 2020. Photo: Hannah Yoon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Republican-led Pennsylvania court on Friday ruled that the state's mail-in voting law is unconstitutional.

Driving the news: Three Republican judges sided with Republican challengers and ruled that no-excuse mail-in voting is prohibited under the state's constitution. Two Democrats on the panel dissented.

2 hours ago - World

China's ambassador warns Taiwan could spark "military conflict" with U.S.

Photo: Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images

China's ambassador to the U.S. warned in a rare interview with NPR that if Taiwanese authorities "keep going down the road for independence," it would "most likely" lead to a "military conflict" between the U.S. and China.

Why it matters: Chinese officials rarely speak in such blunt terms, but veteran diplomat Qin Gang was unequivocal: "The Taiwan issue is the biggest tinderbox between China and the United States."