Retired Gen. Kelly 'Reviewing' White House Troops

Image: John Kelly
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a Make America Great Again Rally in Huntington, West Virginia, on Aug 3.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

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By Hallie Jackson

WASHINGTON — Call it the "Bedminster effect."

President Donald Trump, for the second time in as many days, took more questions than he typically does from the small pool of reporters who were with him at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he is staying for just over two weeks while the White House undergoes renovations.

But even as the president commands attention with his latest harsh rhetoric against North Korea, there’s another kind of "Bedminster effect" happening behind the scenes — this one involving the new chief of staff.

John Kelly is using this time away from Washington to conduct a kind of "review," or assessment, of White House operations, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions, as he drills down on both the personnel and the processes in the West Wing.

Two sources close to the administration and another inside it described details of Kelly’s review, which includes information flow, and is intended to streamline functionality and add structure to what one person called the "improvisational nature" of the advice the president gets.

"He's brought something special to the office," Trump said Friday of Kelly. "I call him 'chief.'"

It’s not surprising that a four-star retired Marine general would begin his tenure "surveying the troops," so to speak, and getting to know the strengths — and weaknesses — of his new team.

"Like any new head of an office, General Kelly is interested in learning how the systems currently function and how they can be improved," White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters said in an email on Friday.

In an administration beleaguered by vacancies in multiple agencies, an area of particular focus includes the personnel office, led by John DeStefano. Another, of course, is the communications shop — still without a director after the abrupt exit of Anthony Scaramucci last month.

Stephen Miller’s feisty turn at the briefing podium last week sparked gleeful speculation among some insiders, but a move to lead the communications team would amount to a de facto demotion for Miller, a senior policy adviser.

Another option, according to three sources familiar with the discussions, is David Lapan, a former public affairs officer for the Department of Defense, who has a relationship with Kelly. He’s currently the spokesman at the Department of Homeland Security, and declined to comment on any future roles.

As for who will replace Kelly at DHS: Two administration sources said the White House is not racing to fill the position. While the officials said the White House wants a strong leader in the critical role, many inside the West Wing believe Elaine Duke is doing a fine job in the interim.