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Free to Speak, John Kelly Bucks Trump on the Border Wall

Well, he’s right, actually.

I have to imagine former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is breathing so much easier, these days.

No longer is it on his shoulders to defend the indefensible, or perpetuate lies to the public, in order to protect the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

With all that, Kelly is speaking more freely, and did so while appearing for an onstage interview at Duke University on Wednesday evening.

So what were some of the topics the retired four-star general touched on?

He called his time with the administration, as both the Secretary of Homeland Security, and then chief of staff, his “civic duty.”

Interestingly, he added that he would have accepted the position coming from a President Hillary Clinton, as well.

I’m sure that’s enough to cause some to get whiplash from the double take.

One thing he’s no longer doing is denying he said working for Donald Trump was his “least enjoyable” job. Rather, he frames it as his “most important job.”

In the past week, Kelly has been back in the news again, related to the controversy surrounding the top secret security clearance given to Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, as well as the favored child, Ivanka Trump – both against Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn’s recommendations.

The intelligence community had likewise flagged Kushner as a threat, but according to recent reports, Trump demanded Kushner and Ivanka Trump have that clearance.

He eventually went over their heads to get them that clearance.

Kelly wasn’t at liberty to discuss that particular controversy, but he did speak up about the current immigration situation, as well as Trump’s wall.

Speaking directly against Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants:

“They’re overwhelmingly not criminals,” Kelly said Wednesday. “They’re people coming up here for economic purposes. I don’t blame them for that.”

He also reiterated his position that a border wall spanning the entire U.S.-Mexico border would be a “waste of money,” despite overseeing the beginning of what would become the longest government shutdown in U.S. history over Trump’s demand that Congress fund the wall.

Though there are areas where a border wall would be effective, Kelly said, “We don’t need a wall from sea to shining sea.” The president himself has shifted on the specifics of his border wall, including its proposed length.

Trump will shift as public opinion or the Fox News pundits’ opinions shift. If Sean Hannity calls for a concrete wall, that’s what Trump will shift to.

I’ve said it often, and I continue it to be true: The most effective, doable plan for border security came from former Texas Governor (and current Secretary of Energy) Rick Perry.

You place strategic fencing, get more boots on the ground, closer to the border, rather than 50 miles away, use aviation assets with a direct line to quick responders on the ground, and you can secure that border.

This is what Trump needs, but hasn’t done.

He needs a reasonable plan of action to work with. If he can take this plan to Congress, without screaming out his campaign slogans, I suspect more lawmakers will be willing to sit and listen, and it won’t require a fictitious “emergency.”

Further in the discussion, Kelly also defended NATO, and the United States’ involvement. That’s another issue where he parts with Trump.

So did he have any advice for his replacement, Mick Mulvaney?

Before saying the chief of staff’s job is to tell the president “what he needs to hear,” Kelly said he advised Mulvaney to “run for it.” 

I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot of those “run for it” stories from former Trump staffers, one day.

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