On Twitter Tuesday evening, U.S. president Donald Trump denounced as “fake news” reports that White House chief of staff John Kelly would soon be fired.
“This story is totally made up by the dishonest media,” he tweeted.
As far as can be discovered, however, no media outlet had actually reported this, or anything reasonably close to it. Trump might possibly have been reacting to a short piece in Vanity Fair that talked about Kelly’s unhappiness in the job, but a reader of that story would take the idea of Kelly quitting as being at least as likely as his resigning. On Monday, the Washington Post speculated about a possible replacement for Kelly “should tensions between the president and his top aide become unsustainable.”
In early August, a CNBC commentator predicted Kelly’s outster if he was given public credit for righting a wayward administration: “He will be pushed out because Trump … cannot tolerate anyone else getting the credit.” But that was more than two months ago.
Trump then followed it up Wednesday with tweets questioning the broadcast licences of networks which ran stories that displeased him:
Broadcast licences have been used as a tool of censorship in several countries, such as Russia, Venezuela and Indonesia. In Uganda, for example, officials have pulled the broadcast licences of radio and TV stations whose reporting the government disliked.
Trump’s relationship with his inner circle, and senior Republicans in Congress, has frayed in public in a way that would be unthinkable in any other administration in the recent past.
- Last week, powerful Republican Sen. Bob Corker said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, defence secretary James Mattis and Kelly “are those people that help separate our country from chaos,” following it up a few days later with a tweet that said it was a “shame the White House has become an adult day care center … Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”
- Also last week, reports emerged saying that Tillerson had called Trump either a “moron” or a “f*ing moron” back in the summer. Tillerson, asked to respond to the reports, refused to deny that he had used the word. “I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests,” Trump responded. “And I can tell you who is going to win.”
- Kelly’s frustration with his boss, expressing itself in body language, has become an Internet meme – face-palming during Trump’s speech to the UN in September in which he threatened to “totally destroy North Korea,” for example.
Tillerson, Mattis and Kelly are serious people: Tillerson used to run ExxonMobil, and Mattis and Kelly were both full generals in the U.S. Marine Corps. Why do they endure life in Trump’s White House? Corker’s comment offers one hint, as does a report that Kelly “doesn’t love this job. He’s doing it as a duty for the country.”
The U.S. Constitution offers another, not incompatible possibility — the vice-president, and a majority of the U.S. federal cabinet, can start the process of removing a president if they deem him “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” If Mattis and Tillerson are goaded into resigning, they don’t get a vote when or if the time comes.