"WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump said Friday that he has replaced his chief of staff Reince Priebus with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general.
In tweets Friday afternoon, Mr. Trump said: “I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American.....and a Great Leader.”
Mr. Priebus said in a text message Friday to The Wall Street Journal: “I resigned privately yesterday.”
In comments to reporters at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington on Friday, Mr. Trump said: “Reince is a good man. John Kelly will do a fantastic job.” He added: “Gen. Kelly has been a star, done an incredible job thus far, respected by everybody. He’s a great, great American.”
The shift at the top of the White House hierarchy is aimed at bringing order to an administration that has been beset by infighting, as Mr. Trump seeks to notch the sort of sweeping legislative victories that have eluded him to this point, advisers to the president said.
JOHN KELLY’S BIOGRAPHY
Born May 11, 1950, in Boston
Joined the Marine Corps in 1970. Discharged in 1972 at the rank of sergeant.
Graduated University of Massachusetts in 1976.
Commissioned and returned to active duty, where he served for four decades.
Commander U.S. forces in Western Iraq, 2008-9
Commander U.S. Southern Command 2012-16
In 2010, Gen. Kelly became the highest-ranking military officer to lose a child in Iraq or Afghanistan, when his son, Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, was killed after he stepped on a landmine while serving in Afghanistan.
Mr. Kelly said he had never met Donald Trump, nor did he know anyone who knew him, before he was offered the job as Homeland Security Secretary shortly after the 2016 election.
Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump, both of whom serve as advisers in the West Wing, were supportive of the decision to install Mr. Kelly, a White House official said.
After Mr. Trump made the announcement, which came just as Air Force One landed in Washington following a trip to New York, he posted another tweet thanking Mr. Priebus “for his service and dedication to his country.” He went on, “We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!”
Mr. Trump stayed on the plane while Mr. Priebus and other top aides disembarked. Mr. Priebus’s car left the motorcade and departed before Mr. Trump descended from the plane.
Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), who rode on Air Force One with the president and his top aides, said he spoke to Mr. Priebus during the flight from Long Island and was unaware that he had been replaced as chief of staff. “Good poker face. Showed nothing,” Mr. King said of Mr. Priebus. “We didn’t even know it.”
Mr. King said that as he was preparing to deplane, the president told him and other lawmakers on the flight that he would announce Mr. Kelly was his new chief of staff.
Mr. Trump had been giving renewed consideration to replacing Mr. Priebus after installing Anthony Scaramucci as communications director.
Messrs. Scaramucci and Priebus had openly feuded, creating a level of drama and tension inside the West Wing that advisers say isn’t sustainable. Aides would like to shift the focus from staff squabbles to Mr. Trump’s next big legislative goal—overhauling the tax code.
Mr. Scaramucci this week gave a profanity-laced interview to the New Yorker magazine in which he disparaged Mr. Priebus and other top staffers. One adviser who has spoken with the president said Mr. Trump was dismissive of Mr. Priebus for not returning fire.
Mr. Kelly’s appointment capped one of the most turbulent weeks in Mr. Trump’s young presidency, exposing the difficulty he’s had in adapting his executive style to the policy-making arena, veterans of past administrations said.
In the space of one week, the president saw his press secretary resign, his health-care bill implode and his chief of staff replaced.
In his first six months, Mr. Trump has now seen the exits of his chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, national security adviser, communications director and press secretary. With the exception of former national security adviser Mike Flynn, all were representatives of the Republican establishment, reflecting a shift away from that part of the party.
Peter Wehner, who worked in the past three Republican administrations, said of the White House: “There’s no strategic thinking. There’s no competent execution. It’s just a free for all.”
In a check on Mr. Trump’s power, the Senate this week approved a bill that forces his hand on new sanctions on Russia. If he lets the legislation become law, it could curtail executive power. But a veto would invite suggestions that he’s being soft on Russia.
“There is a faction of people telling the president that whatever this is, it’s not your usual disruption,” said one person familiar with the conversations. “It’s chaos right now, and the team is rattled. The fabric is unwinding.”
Mr. Kelly comes to the job after serving as homeland security secretary, where he was charged with overseeing the implementation of Mr. Trump’s controversial travel ban, which has faced a series of holdups in the courts.
Before joining Mr. Trump’s cabinet as secretary of homeland security, Mr. Kelly served as chief of the U.S. Southern Command, the division that oversees U.S. military activities south of Mexico, including Central America, South America and the Caribbean. As Southern Command chief, Mr. Kelly focused on homeland-security issues, because his post involved monitoring drug trafficking and other illicit smuggling activity south of the U.S.
Mr. Kelly also served for several years as the legislative assistant to the commandant of the Marines, providing him with front-line experience in dealing with Congress.
Mr. Kelly has a personal history that reflects the tragedies of war. His son, Marine 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan in 2010.
Among other duties, Mr. Kelly oversaw operations at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and commanded U.S. troops in Iraq. He joined the Marines in 1970 and became the military’s longest serving general. He retired last year."