WASHINGTON, Feb 14 — Donald Trump's respected former chief of staff let rip against the “illegal” scheme in Ukraine that led to impeachment, The Atlantic reported yesterday, drawing an angry response from the US president.
In an unusually blunt speech late Wednesday, retired Marine Corps general John Kelly also criticised Trump's policies on North Korea, immigration and intervention in the case of a special forces soldier accused of war crimes.
Kelly, who served in the White House from 2017-2019, sprang to the defence of national security advisor Alexander Vindman, who testified against Trump in his impeachment probe, only to be fired last Friday in apparent retaliation.
Vindman lodged an alert after hearing Trump make his now infamous phone call to new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July last year, demanding a probe into Democratic presidential opponent Joe Biden.
Vindman, a decorated army officer, was reacting as he should any time on hearing “an illegal order,” Kelly said in the address at Drew University in New Jersey, The Atlantic reported.
“We teach them, 'Don’t follow an illegal order. And if you're ever given one, you'll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss.'”
Responding on Twitter, Trump disparaged Kelly as in “way over his head” as chief of staff.
“He came in with a bang, went out with a whimper, but like so many X's, he misses the action & just can't keep his mouth shut,” Trump said, adding that Kelly's silence was “a military and legal obligation.”
Kelly, who saw Trump up close during the heart of his first term, also criticised two of the president's highest profile initiatives.
He said a dramatic attempt to secure a breakthrough over North Korea's nuclear arsenal by meeting twice with leader Kim Jong-un had failed.
“He will never give his nuclear weapons up,” Kelly said of the North Korean leader. “I never did think Kim would do anything other than play us for a while, and he did that fairly effectively.”
Kelly, who led the US Southern Command responsible for operations in Central and South America from 2012-16, also blasted Trump's portrayal of illegal immigrants as dangerous criminals, saying “in fact, they're overwhelmingly good people.”
“They're not all rapists and they're not all murderers. And it's wrong to characterise them that way. I disagreed with the president a number of times,” he said.
He added that Trump's order for the military to reverse its expulsion of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, after he was convicted of posing for a photograph with a dead prisoner in Iraq, was “the wrong thing to do.”
“Had I been there, I think I could have prevented it,” he said.
Gallagher was acquitted of charges that he knifed the wounded teenage prisoner to death before posing for the trophy photo. — AFP