Trump's former chief of staff is trying to redeem his record.
John Kelly, Donald Trump's former secretary of Homeland Security and chief of staff, appears to be on a redemption tour of sorts, publicly condemning Trump's behavior more than a year after leaving his administration.
In a speech at Drew University in New Jersey Wednesday night, Kelly specifically tried to distance himself from Trump's anti-immigrant policies — despite carrying many of them out in his role as DHS secretary.
Kelly said that the Central American migrants, whom Trump has demonized as criminals, were in fact "overwhelmingly good people" and "not all rapists," the Atlantic reported.
"They’re not all rapists and they’re not all murderers," he said. "And it's wrong to characterize them that way. I disagreed with the president a number of times."
Kelly's stance on migrants and immigration contrasts with comments he made while serving in the Trump administration.
In 2018, while acting as Trump's chief of staff, Kelly called those who were eligible but had not already applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program "lazy."
"[There were] people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn't sign up," he said at the time, referring to those not enrolled with DACA, which offers deportation protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
Kelly also carried out Trump's anti-immigrant agenda while serving as DHS secretary, suggesting early on that the administration separate families at the border to deter undocumented immigration.
He was chief of staff when Trump implemented the draconian policy, which resulted in thousands of children being forcibly removed from their families and locked up in detention facilities.
A number of those facilities had histories of alleged misconduct and abuse and experts have said many of the children subjected to the separation policy have suffered long-lasting trauma as a result of their stays there. Several children also died while in custody.
Kelly is now on the board of Caliburn International, which ran a facility in Homestead, Florida, that housed children who were separated from their parents at the border and which faced criticism for mistreating its children.
Kelly's comments this week made headlines after he also questioned Trump's attempts to negotiate with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, admitting that Trump got played "fairly effectively" by Kim.
And he stood up for Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Purple Heart recipient who testified against Trump in his impeachment inquiry and was subsequently removed from his role on the White House National Security Council. Vindman's twin brother was also fired from his role as a lawyer with the NSC.
Kelly on Wednesday said that Vindman was doing "exactly" what military personnel are taught to do when he raised concerns about Trump pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations into Trump's political rivals during a July 2019 phone call.
"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,'" Kelly, a veteran himself, said of Vindman, suggesting Trump's actions were inappropriate.
It's unclear why Kelly is speaking out now, more than a year after leaving the Trump administration.
Kelly notably adopted some of the very behaviors Trump exhibits while serving in the administration.
For example, in October 2019, he attacked Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson's intelligence, saying she was an "empty barrel" after Wilson relayed sentiments from the family of a constituent who had died serving in the U.S. military. Wilson said the family was offended by Trump's call.
"John Kelly was hired to bring order to the White House and help keep President Trump in check. He not only did not achieve these goals but also mired himself in controversies," Wilson said when Kelly left the White House in January 2019.
"Gen. Kelly is leaving the White House with each of his four stars deeply tarnished," she added.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.