WASHINGTON (CN) – In response to an NBC report suggesting he called President Donald Trump an idiot, four star general and White House chief of staff John Kelly issued a statement Monday denying the allegations as “total B.S.”
NBC News reported the barb after interviewing eight current and former White House officials familiar with the president’s relationship and interactions with his chief of staff.
The alleged insult came during a closed door meeting held earlier this year between lawmakers and Kelly.
According to the unnamed senior officials, the chief of staff grew frustrated as tense negotiations continued to unfold as the president pursued an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Kelly reportedly said Trump “doesn’t even understand what DACA is. He’s an idiot,” and was concerned the lack of understanding was leading the president to make too many concessions to Democratic lawmakers pushing for amnesty.
Kelly said Monday he spends “more time with the President than anyone else” and has “an incredibly candid and strong relationship” with Trump.
“He always knows where I stand and he and I both know this story is total BS. I am committed to the President, his agenda and our country. This is another pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump and distract from the administration’s many successes,” Kelly said in his statement.
According to the NBC report, Kelly also cast himself as a savior among the administration, deflecting the president’s foul moods and allegedly rash behavior.
Stephanie Ruhle, one of the reporters who worked on the story, defended the sourcing Monday night on Twitter.
“As one of the people who worked on the story, I can tell you, it is WELL sourced. As for ‘smearing’ the president, those on your team recount stories of you (not us) undermining his credibility,” Ruhle wrote.
Zachary Fuentes, one of Kelly’s top aides, also told a small group of reporters on Capitol Hill Monday evening that the report was “complete BS.”
“He never said that, I was in the meeting,” Fuentes said.
President Trump responded to the allegations Monday night via Twitter.
“The White House is running very smoothly despite phony Witch Hunts etc. There is great Energy and unending Stamina, both necessary to get things done. We are accomplishing the unthinkable and setting positive records while doing so! Fake news is going “bonkers!” Trump wrote.
This is the second time a high level cabinet official in the Trump administration has been accused of insulting the president outright.
Ken Hughes, a historian with the University of Virginia’s Miller Center weighed in Monday night, telling Courthouse News it wouldn’t be the last time one of Trump’s top advisers would question the president’s intelligence.
“Although Trump probably has a pretty high IQ, he has brought this on himself in a number of ways. He has set a disrespectful tone with his own rhetoric – by routinely disparaging the intelligence of people who disagree with him, for example – and the people who work for him in the White House naturally adopt the same tone when talking about him.”
Hughes said Trump “doesn’t do the homework” the previous president’s have done to master policy.
“He does not dig into the information that intelligence agencies bring him. He watches way too much TV. Although presidents like FDR, Nixon and Clinton impressed others with their detailed knowledge of power and policy, the people who work for Trump think they understand those things better than him and they have a point,” Hughes said.
Hughes said the impact of these public reminders is bound to hurt the administration, but at the same time, the behavior has become somewhat normalized on the public stage.
Consider Nixon’s administration, Hughes said.
“Certainly there was acrimony within the Nixon administration but it was about specific choices the president had made. None of the people who worked for Nixon in the White House lacked respect for his intellect or his capacity for the hard work involved in mastering the issues before him. With Trump, we don’t see that.”
Last July, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly called Trump a “moron” during a meeting at the Pentagon with members of the president’s national security team and other cabinet officials.
Tillerson was fired months after the remark became public.
Historically, Kelly has fallen in and out of the president’s favor.
Trump praised Kelly’s work ethic on Twitter in January saying he was “doing a fantastic job” working with lawmakers to revamp DACA.
But the praise only came after several reports surfaced depicting Kelly as critical of the president’s border wall and immigration policies when addressing members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus earlier that month.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez recalled Kelly striking a dismissive tone during at the meeting. Gutierrez recalled Kelly suggesting Trump’s campaign promises to build an extensive U.S.-Mexico border were “not informed statements.”
Kelly appeared on Fox News hours later telling host Bret Baier the president’s thoughts on the wall were part of an “evolutionary process.”
“And I pointed out to all of the members that were in the room that [politicians] all say things during the course of campaigns that may or may not be fully informed,” Kelly told Baier, adding the president was “very, very flexible” in terms of both the wall and DACA.
Following the interview, Trump rebuffed Kelly on Twitter.
“The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it,” Trump wrote.
Kelly also came under scrutiny in February when it was revealed that the general knew White House staff secretary Rob Porter was accused of domestic abuse.