Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly Says Trump Has Poisoned Americans’ Minds, Needs to Go

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White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said he watched brokenhearted and horrified as a mob of President Donald Trump's supporters broke down barricades and grappled with federal police to breach the U.S. Capitol this week.

Peaceful protests and criminal riots have occurred in the U.S., Kelly told Military.com, but what happened on Capitol Hill "is different." It was an attack on democracy, on Americans' way of life, he said.

The retired Marine Corps four-star general, who served not only as Trump's chief of staff but secretary of Homeland Security, did not use the president's name in response to questions about the storming of the Capitol, which left four dead by police accounts. But in a Thursday interview with CNN, Kelly said Trump should be removed from office, adding that if he were still a Cabinet member, he'd vote to do so.

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Trump, Kelly said, has poisoned people's minds with lies and fraud.

"I think the Cabinet should meet and discuss this because the behavior yesterday and the weeks and months before that have just been outrageous," he said.

Kelly told Military.com that Americans must be mindful of who they're electing to positions of power.

"What we need to do going forward -- what we have to do as a people -- not as Democrats, or Republicans, or Independents, but as Americans, is to ask ourselves, 'How did we ever get to this place?'" he said. "We need to look infinitely harder at who we elect."

Kelly has faced criticism for his reluctance to speak out about Trump, as well as some policies that were enacted during his time in the administration, including a 2017 travel ban that quickly barred anyone from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the U.S.

When he was the head of the Department of Homeland Security, he said it was considering separating migrant children from their parents to deter people from fleeing Central America for the U.S. border -- a policy that was put into place, leaving hundreds of parents and children still separated years later.

Kelly told CNN on Thursday that Trump's flaws weren't evident when he first met him. Once they were, he said, he stayed in his position as long as possible to "try to prevent some disaster."

The retired general, who lost his Marine officer son in Afghanistan, said Wednesday that the millions of men and women who've worn a military uniform understand the ultimate sacrifice some pay to defend U.S. democracy from overseas threats.

"We who did all of that could have never imagined, until today, that the threat could come from within -- encouraged in some cases by officials sworn to uphold that democracy," the former White House chief of staff said.

Kelly is one of three prominent retired Marine general officers who served during the Trump administration to speak out in the wake of Wednesday's mob. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday blamed Trump for the "violent assault on our Capitol."

"His use of the Presidency to destroy trust in our election and to poison our respect for fellow citizens has been enabled by pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice," Mattis said.

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford called Wednesday "an outrageous assault on our democracy.

"It's time for all Americans and particularly our elected officials to put our Country first," said Dunford, who before retiring pledged never to talk about Trump. "As many have said, we're better than this."

Another Marine veteran serving in Congress, Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat, is among dozens of lawmakers calling for Trump's removal from office.

Kelly credited Biden for his speech following Wednesday's breach, saying his words were "presidential and right to the heart of what we have to do to heal ourselves."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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