But while the totality of Kelly’s comments may be the harshest to date, it’s hardly the first time he has differed with Trump. In fact, Kelly’s time outside the White House has provided a stream of arguments not just that Trump’s conduct is wrong, but that many of his signature policies are, too.
Here’s a quick rundown of all the ways in which Trump’s former top staffer has indicated that the president is in the wrong:
Ukraine: Kelly said Trump’s request of Zelensky was tantamount to “an illegal order.” "We teach them, ‘Don’t follow an illegal order. And if you’re ever given one, you’ll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss.’ ”
Vindman: “He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave — he went and told his boss what he just heard.” “Through the Obama administration up until that phone call, the policy of the U.S. was militarily to support Ukraine in their defensive fight against … the Russians. 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.”
North Korea: "[Kim] will never give his nuclear weapons up. 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.”
Immigrants: “In fact, they’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.”
Syria withdrawal: Kelly called it a “catastrophically bad idea.” “It didn’t happen while I was there — and a couple of other people recently left the administration, and then he went with his instinct. But it was, on a number of levels, the wrong thing to do, and it has opened the way for the Russians to be very, very influential in the Middle East.”
NATO: Trump is unable to separate his own views from political concerns.
The media and Fox News: “The media, in my view — and I feel very strongly about this — is not the enemy of the people. We need a free media. That said, you have to be careful about what you are watching and reading, because the media has taken sides. So if you only watch Fox News, because it’s reinforcing what you believe, you are not an informed citizen.”
Border wall: Constructing one “from sea to shining sea” is a “waste of money.”
John Bolton: “If John Bolton says that in the book, I believe John Bolton."
Witnesses in the impeachment trial: “I think some of the conversations seem to me to be very inappropriate, but I wasn’t there. But … there are people that were there that ought to be heard from.”
Trump is “all over the place”: “It pains me to see what’s going on because I believe if I was still there or someone like me was there, he would not be kind of all over the place.”
Putting Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, in the White House: “They were an influence that has to be dealt with. … By no means do I mean Mrs. Trump; the first lady’s a wonderful person.”
Despite his increasing criticism of Trump, Kelly will always have his detractors in the anti-Trump community. They view his post-White House comments as self-serving and insufficient, arguing that he could and should have done more at the time — especially when it comes to the administration’s policy of separating immigrant families at the border. (Kelly also controversially took a position on the board of a company that runs border shelters after leaving the White House.)
But this is also the president’s former top aide arguing that he is dead wrong on a series of biggest initiatives and in some of his most controversial actions. In particular, he’s also rather strongly siding against Trump’s actions on Ukraine. It’s hardly nothing.
Update: Trump has now responded.
....which he actually has a military and legal obligation to do. His incredible wife, Karen, who I have a lot of respect for, once pulled me aside & said strongly that “John respects you greatly. When we are no longer here, he will only speak well of you.” Wrong!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2020