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Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

The day after President Trump fired FBI boss James Comey, the president phoned John Kelly, who was then secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, and offered him Comey's job, the New York Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Michael Schmidt reports in his forthcoming book, "Donald Trump v. The United States."

Driving the news: "But the president added something else — if he became FBI director, Trump told him, Kelly needed to be loyal to him, and only him."

  • "Kelly immediately realized the problem with Trump's request for loyalty, and he pushed back on the president's demand," Schmidt writes.
  • "Kelly said that he would be loyal to the Constitution and the rule of law, but he refused to pledge his loyalty to Trump."

Why it matters: This previously unreported conversation sheds additional light on the president's mindset when he fired Comey. Special counsel Robert Mueller never learned of this information because the president's lawyers limited the scope of his team's two-hour interview with Kelly.

  • "In addition to illustrating how Trump viewed the role and independence of senior officials who work for him, the president's demand for loyalty tracked with Comey's experience with Trump," Schmidt writes.

Behind the scenes: Schmidt reports that "throughout Kelly's time working directly with Trump, Kelly was repeatedly struck by how Trump failed to understand how those who worked for him — like Kelly and other top former generals — had interest in being loyal not to him, but to the institutions of American democracy."

  • "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."
  • "Aside from questions of the law, Kelly has told others that one of the most difficult tasks he faced with Trump was trying to stop him from pulling out of NATO — a move that Trump has repeatedly threatened but never made good on, which would have been a seismic breach of American alliances and an extraordinary gift to Putin."

Quote of the book: "Kelly has said that having to say no to Trump was like 'French kissing a chainsaw.'"

Another revelation: Schmidt reports that Mueller's prosecutors made near real-time requests to McGahn's lawyer, Bill Burck, to find out what the president was telling the White House counsel in their private conversations.

  • In a summary of the reporting, Schmidt tells me, "This was a highly invasive tactic. Mueller's team wanted to know whether Trump had a role in the firing of the acting FBI director Andrew McCabe and whether Trump was saying anything about prosecuting Comey."
  • "Trump was indeed discussing prosecuting Clinton and Comey, and McGahn had written a memo to Trump detailing why he should not be pressing the Justice Department for such a prosecution."

My thought bubble: This kind of activity from Mueller's team was far more invasive, in terms of information-gathering from the president's inner circle, than any investigating that happened on the 2016 campaign.

Go deeper

Trump repeats election misinformation in first post-election rally

President Trump at Valdosta Regional Airport in Valdosta, Ga., yesterday. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump, during his first rally since he lost the 2020 election, falsely stated again on Saturday night that he won in Wisconsin and Georgia (Joe Biden won both), and said he'll push for "a complete overhaul of our election security systems."

Why it matters: To the frustration of some top Republicans, Trump spent more time on his own grievances than on the ostensible purpose of the rally in Valdosta, Georgia — getting Republicans to vote for Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in Jan. 5 runoffs that'll determine whether Mitch McConnell stays majority leader.

Scoop: Trump plots mass pardons, even to people not asking

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

President Trump isn't just accepting pardon requests but blindly discussing them "like Christmas gifts" to people who haven't even asked, sources with direct knowledge of the conversations told Axios.

Behind the scenes: Trump recently told one adviser he was going to pardon "every person who ever talked to me," suggesting an even larger pardon blitz to come. As with most Trump conversations, the adviser wasn't sure how seriously to take the president — although Trump gave no indication he was joking.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden readies massive shifts in policy for his first days in office.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.
  6. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.