In a forthcoming memoir, Jared Kushner alleges that former president Donald Trump’s second chief of staff, John F. Kelly, was viewed within the White House as a bully with a “Jekyll-and-Hyde” demeanor who once shoved his wife, Ivanka Trump, out of his way after a volatile Oval Office meeting. Kelly denies the allegation.
Kushner, who served as senior presidential adviser, writes in “Breaking History: A White House Memoir” that he and his wife viewed Kelly as “consistently duplicitous” but “only once did Kelly let his mask fully slip.”
“One day he had just marched out of a contentious meeting in the Oval Office,” Kushner writes. “Ivanka was walking down the main hallway in the West Wing when she passed him. Unaware of his heated state of mind, she said, ‘Hello, chief.’ Kelly shoved her out of the way and stormed by. She wasn’t hurt, and didn’t make a big deal about the altercation, but in his rage Kelly had shown his true character.”
In his recounting, Kushner writes that, about an hour later, Kelly visited Ivanka’s second-floor West Wing office to offer what he describes as “a meek apology, which she accepted.”
In an email responding to Kushner’s depiction of the incident, Kelly wrote, “I don’t recall anything like you describe.”
“It is inconceivable that I would EVER shove a woman. Inconceivable. Never happen,” Kelly wrote. “Would never intentionally do something like that. Also, don’t remember ever apologizing to her for something I didn’t do. I’d remember that.”
Kushner, however, writes that Julie Radford, Ivanka Trump’s chief of staff, had been meeting with Trump and heard Kelly deliver an apology. “It was the first and only time that Ivanka’s staff saw Kelly visit their second-floor corner of the West Wing,” he writes.
Through a spokesperson, Trump said that her husband’s description of the incident is accurate. Radford also said she witnessed Kelly come to Ivanka’s office, and that she heard him offer her an apology.
Donald Trump himself has a well-earned reputation for bullying and dishonesty, and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker chronicled more than 30,000 false or misleading statements from him during his four years in office. Many of Trump’s staffers also were known for offering competing versions of the same event, often making it difficult to determine the truth of what happened.
The Washington Post obtained excerpts of Kushner’s memoir, which is set to be published on Aug. 23.
Kelly initially joined Trump’s administration as homeland security secretary, but became Trump’s chief of staff midway through his first year in office after Trump replaced Reince Priebus, his first chief of staff.
Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, viewed his mandate as bringing order and military-style discipline to Trump’s freewheeling and chaotic West Wing. But some in Trump’s orbit — including Kushner and Ivanka Trump — soon chafed under Kelly’s strict procedures, which included requiring the president’s family to alert Kelly of their work-related interactions with Trump.
Kelly also grew frustrated with the couple who, in his view, seemed determined to circumvent his authority and backchannel to the president.
In his memoir, Kushner depicts Kelly as privately dismissive of Ivanka while publicly showering her “with compliments to her face that she knew were insincere.”
“Then the four-star general would call her staff to his office and berate and intimidate them over trivial procedural issues that his rigid system often created,” Kushner writes. “He would frequently refer to her initiatives like paid family leave and the child tax credit as ‘Ivanka’s pet projects.’ ”
Kushner recounts another incident in Beijing in 2017 — a version of which was initially reported by Axios — in which Kelly got into a fight with Chinese officials after a Chinese security official tried to prevent Trump’s military aide from joining the president in a meeting with the “nuclear football,” the leather briefcase that contains the nuclear codes and accompanies the president everywhere.
The attempt by the Chinese to meddle with the nuclear football, Kushner writes, “was an alarming diplomatic breach.”
But he also describes Kelly as being overly aggressive, and using the moment to assert his authority over the Chinese.
“Kelly caught a glimpse of the scuffle and rushed toward the doorway, grabbing the Chinese officer by the neck and pinning him against the wall,” Kushner writes. "'You people are rude,' he screamed. ‘The Chinese people are rude! This is terrible! This is not how you treat your guests!’ A protocol official rushed in, realizing the security officer’s mistake, and apologized profusely. But Kelly stormed away, boycotting the meeting and leaving a chair next to the president conspicuously empty.”
Kushner said Kelly then joined the rest of the White House staff and “regaled us with the story of what had just unfolded,” before refusing an attempt by the head of Chinese protocol to personally apologize for the mistake.
In an email, Kelly, like Kushner, said the incident occurred when Chinese officials attempted to interfere with the diplomatic pouch, when they “know that they have no right to inspect it or send it through a magnetometer.”
“The situation was already confrontational when I heard the commotion a distance away, moved to the location, and in no uncertain terms reminded them that they would not have access,” Kelly wrote. “The Chinese officials on site elected to continue the confrontational approach until they were ‘convinced’ that we were correct. At that point the confrontation ended.”
Kelly added: “A few minutes later a Chinese (protocol I think) official came to our hold room and apologized to me. Issue over. Nothing after that.”
But in Kushner’s telling, when he saw Kelly and the head of Chinese protocol walking together after the incident, “chummy as could be,” he finally had a window into understanding Trump’s chief of staff.
“In that moment, I finally understood John Kelly,” Kushner writes. “To him, everything was a game of establishing dominance and control. He made people feel small and unimportant to establish the relationship from a place of power. Then, with his position firmly established, he would charm and disarm, leaving people relieved that they were on his good side, but fearful of what would happen if they crossed him.”