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Conversations over possible John Kelly successor heat up

CNN logo CNN 2/14/2018 By Dana Bash, Gloria Borger, Jamie Gangel, Jim Acosta and Jeremy Diamond, CNN
White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and Chief of Staff John Kelly arrive for the weekly Senate Republican Policy Committee luncheon in the U.S. Capitol November 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Donald Trump is joining the Senate Republicans for their weekly luncheon. © Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and Chief of Staff John Kelly arrive for the weekly Senate Republican Policy Committee luncheon in the U.S. Capitol November 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Donald Trump is joining the Senate Republicans for their weekly luncheon.

There has been no decision by President Donald Trump to replace embattled White House chief of staff John Kelly, but multiple sources say conversations over who could succeed him have heated up.

CNN had reported the President has been calling associates in recent days and discussing possibilities.

While no decision has been made, the scrutiny increased after Tuesday's testimony by FBI Director Christopher Wray.

One source said Tuesday that the big problem was Kelly was overwhelmed and didn't initially deal with the fallout over allegations of spousal abuse by former White House staff secretary Rob Porter's ex-wives. When he realized the problem, the source said Kelly went into a damage-control mode, but it was really cover-up mode, and asked people to say things that weren't true.

A second source says that Kelly was in over his head with personnel issues and that he has been hurt by his poor handling of the Porter allegations this week. This source indicated Kelly was further hurt by friends of Trump outside the White House saying he should go.

Sources say the conversations center on chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as possible successors.

One source says McCarthy is telling people he doesn't want the job, and another source says he could be more valuable to the White House in his current role in Congress.

A source said that while Cohn had an issue with Trump over his reaction to racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, that run-in showed that he pushes back, which would be needed in the chief of staff job.

Cohn, a high-profile Jewish member of the administration and former Goldman Sachs executive, had told the Financial Times that Trump's handling of the Charlottesville violence and protests caused him "distress." Cohn said the administration "can and must do better" to condemn hate groups.

CNN's Sara Murray and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.

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