NPR New Interviews White House Chief of Staff John Kelly
Thursday, May 10th; In an interview airing on Morning Edition, NPR's Southwest Correspondent John Burnett spoke with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about a wide range of issues including immigration policy, the Iran deal, North Korea, the President's intellect, the Russia investigation and more.
Stations and broadcast times are available at NPR.org/stations.
Excerpts of the interview are available below and can be cited with attribution. A full transcript will be made available after the interview has aired.
On whether he has seriously considered leaving the White House:
"No. I mean there's times of great frustration, mostly because of the stories I've read about myself or others that I think the world of which is just about everyone that works at the complex. I wonder if it's worth it to be subjected to that. But then I grow up and suck it up."
When asked about anything he wishes he had done differently:
"In retrospect I wish I had been here from day one. ... I think in some cases in terms of staffing or serving the president that first six months was pretty chaotic, and there were people, some people, hired that maybe shouldn't have. ... I wish I'd been here from the beginning because I could have brought the organization from, you know, from day one."
When asked if he believes the Russia investigation is a 'witch hunt,' as Trump often calls it:
"Something that has gone on this long without any real meat on the bone, it suggests to me that there is nothing there, relative to our President."
On whether the Russia probe is a cloud hanging over this White House:
"It may not be a cloud but certainly the President is, you know, somewhat embarrassed, frankly. When world leaders come in, it's kind of like you know Bibi Netanyahu is here and he who's under investigation himself and it's like, you know, you walk in and you know the first couple of minutes of every conversation might revolve around that kind of thing."
On whether Trump's decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal harms relations with allies and the next step:
"I don't think so. I mean it was a horrible deal. ... [The next step is] ensuring that a country that has been very unreliable in their claims about not ever having a nuclear program ... doesn't get a nuclear program, and in a country that is developing ICBMs. I don't know the rational man and woman who can't quite understand why he'd need an ICBM that could reach Europe or the United States."
Regarding the upcoming summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, when asked how the president can be sure he's not being tricked:
"Yeah - not sure. But this president's got his eyes wide open. Believe me, the president really wants this to work. We talk fairly frequently about nuclear weapons and he's just astounded that the United States, that the human race has got itself into this dilemma with all of these nuclear weapons and as he says - to help North Korea give up its nuclear program and its missile program would be a wonderful thing. ... I know he won't fall for it in the same way that past presidents have, that get strung along, strung along lifting sanctions, giving them money, and get nothing for it. "
On the administration's recently announced "zero tolerance" policy that calls for separating families who cross the border illegally and prosecuting them:
"Let me step back and tell you that the vast majority of the people that move illegally into United States are not bad people. They're not criminals. They're not MS13. ... But they're also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States into our modern society. They're overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don't speak English; obviously that's a big thing. ... They don't integrate well; they don't have skills. They're not bad people. They're coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws. ... The big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States, and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long."
On Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's decision to end Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from several countries:
"I think we should fold all of the TPS people that have been here for a considerable period of time and find a way for them to be on a path to citizenship. ... Take the Central Americans that have been here 20 plus years. ... By doing what she's done, Secretary Nielsen once again is forcing the United States Congress to do something. I mean I can't tell you the number of times in my hearings when they would ask me about why we're doing this, so what is your philosophy on immigration or whatever. I just said, 'Look, you make the laws. I execute the laws.' I can't pick and choose what laws to enforce. I would be, I should be thrown out of the job if I do that."
On his personal routine:
"We moved to a house in Manassas. ... It's about a 40-minute drive. I get driven in by the Secret Service. I get my fair amount of threats. But anyways, when I get in the car at 5:30, I have to read and basically cover to cover The New York Times, The Washington Post, the CNN website, the FOX News website, Politico and a website I never read before until I got this job: Breitbart. So you know it took to get that into the political spectrum. So that's from 5:30 a.m., and I get home at 8, 8:30 p.m. or later. ..."
BURNETT: "OK. What do you drink when you get home?"
"Wine, usually. Unless my wife's in California, which she is now, and you know I hit the hard stuff."
Ben Fishel, NPR Media Relations
Email: mediarelations (at) npr.org