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Megyn Kelly hangs out at CNN Grill, stoking speculation that she could leave Fox News

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Under different circumstances, the photo above might not be a big deal. So what if Fox News's Megyn Kelly was hanging out with CNN's Don Lemon at 3 a.m., after Democratic National Convention coverage ended? People at rival networks are allowed to be friends, right?

Right. But Kelly's contract is up after the election, and she has publicly discussed the possibility of leaving Fox News.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Kelly told Variety in April. "I've had a great 12 years here, and I really like working for Roger Ailes. I really like my show, and I love my team. But, you know, there's a lot of brain damage that comes from the job."

Ah, Roger Ailes. Kelly doesn't work for him anymore, not since Fox News's longtime chief executive resigned last week amid sexual harassment accusations by several women — Kelly included, according to a report in New York magazine. Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes this month, claiming she was let go after refusing to sleep with her boss. Fox News's parent company, 21st Century Fox, launched an internal investigation that led to Ailes's exit. Kelly reportedly told lawyers hired to conduct the probe that Ailes made an unwanted sexual advance a decade ago.

Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly sits down with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to discuss regrets, bullying and Twitter (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

Any way you look at it, the Ailes saga would seem to make Kelly less likely to remain at Fox News. If she did "really like working for Roger Ailes," then she just lost a big reason to stay. And if she actually thought he was a bit of a creep — and told investigators as much — then she probably alienated his many allies within the network.

The New York Times reported Thursday that things have been awkward lately:

Megyn Kelly and her co-hosts, including Bret Baier and Brit Hume, have not been speaking during commercial breaks, according to two people with direct knowledge of the anchors’ interactions, who described the on-set atmosphere at Fox News as icy. During ads, the hosts are often absorbed with their smartphones. ...
Employees say there is a continuing split inside the network, with one camp of old-guard Fox News loyalists — some of whom owe their careers to Mr. Ailes — upset at his ouster. Some are resentful toward Ms. Kelly for cooperating with lawyers brought in by the network's parent company, 21st Century Fox, to investigate Mr. Ailes's behavior.

Baier told me before the Republican convention that he is "100 percent behind Roger." That doesn't mean he is against Kelly, per se — and the two continue to have an easy rapport on the air — but it is not hard to understand why there could be some tension.

Then throw in this little detail about Kelly's visit to the CNN Grill, courtesy of Politico Playbook: "Kelly spoke with CNN chief Jeff Zucker, Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon, according to several tipsters."

Zucker is the key name here. Hanging out with fellow cable news stars such as Cooper and Lemon is one thing; chatting up the guy who does the hiring at CNN is another.

The Times' Michael Barbaro summed up whole scene:

Fox News did not immediately respond to a Fix inquiry about the status of contract talks with Kelly and its interest in keeping her.

It is entirely possible, of course, that once the drama of recent weeks subsides, Kelly and Fox News will reach a deal that keeps the "Kelly File" on the air for years to come or, perhaps, offers the host more opportunities for broadcast specials, like the one in May that featured a much-hyped interview with Donald Trump. But right now, in the midst of so much uncertainty, a pic of Kelly and Lemon smiling side by side — almost like an anchor team — will only stoke speculation about her possible departure.

Who is NBC News host Megyn Kelly?

In this Saturday, June 3, 2017, photo released Monday, June 5, 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin talks with Megyn Kelly during an interview with NBC's "Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly" in St. Petersburg, Russia. Putin says claims about Russian involvement in U.S. elections are untrue, and says the United States actively interferes with elections in other countries. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)