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White House ‘in a state of chaos’ as Trump’s chief departs

President Trump announced Saturday that his chief of staff John Kelly is leaving his post by the end of the year. Kelly replaced Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, in July 2017. Trump said Kelly's successor would be declared in the coming days. To put this in perspective, NewsHour White House Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Good evening. Thanks for joining us. President Trump's Chief of Staff John Kelly is leaving the administration. The four-star retired general replaced the president's first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, in July of 2017. The president told reporters the news, as he left the White House this afternoon to go to the Army Navy football game in Philadelphia.

  • PRESIDENT TRUMP:

    John Kelly will be leaving. I don't know if I can say retiring but he's a great guy. John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year. We'll be announcing we take John's place; it might be on an interim basis. I'll be announcing that over the next day or two. But John will be leaving at the end of the year.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The president also said he thinks the Russia investigation headed by Robert Muller is quote "going very nicely." Joining us now via Skype is NewHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor. The replacement of the chief of staff, is this expected?

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    It was expected and largely because for days now we've heard that John Kelly and President Trump were not speaking. And this is really in some ways remarkable because the chief of staff is supposed to be someone who is very close to the president, someone who's bringing order to the White House, who's actually the person who is supposed to be channeling communication to the president. But President Trump after months of saying that John Kelly was a great general, that he was someone that he wanted to keep in his administration until 2020, I think tired of that order because the president is really used to a freewheeling White House that functions much like Trump Tower, where people can come in and out of the office and where his daughter Ivanka Trump can kind of talk to her dad whenever she feels like it. And John Kelly wasn't going to have a White House that functioned that way.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Are there any ideas on who could replace him?

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Right now there are no ideas. I'm sure the president has someone in the back of his mind. Today he said that he would have someone make that announcement within the next couple days. But the reporting I've gotten so far is that there isn't a solid person that's going to be following John Kelly as of yet.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    This is just about 24 hours since the release of documents that say the president directed illegal hush money payments. I mean, I'm just trying to put this in the context of the kind of information that you have to deal with on a daily basis covering the White House right now.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Well this is a White House that, while President Trump wants to say is functioning very smoothly, is actually in a state of chaos and a lot of the times you have this continuing revolving door that spinning of people continuously leaving the White House. And then you have this large cloud of the Russia investigation. The president is someone who is focused on it. He's tweeting about it daily. He is frustrated with the fact that he has these people that he thought were loyal to him now speaking to a special counsel. You think of Michael Cohen, you think of the executive editor of The National Enquirer, and other people that were close friends of the president who have now had interviews with the special counsel, who in a lot of ways save their own necks. Michael Coleman was focused on making sure that he wasn't going to go to jail for a long period of time. And as a result the president is now I think worried about what else could be coming out of the special counsel investigation and out of Robert Mueller's indictment.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    But in his public statements he seems to be almost exonerated, saying, hey, I don't see any collusion between the Russians here, I don't need any help from the Russians, you should ask Hillary Clinton about that.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    The one thing that he's been very consistent about is the fact that he thinks this is a complete hoax, that the Russian investigation is a witch hunt. It's a messaging war, I think, that he's been able to consistently tell his supporters and Republicans that he will not accept, essentially the findings of Robert Mueller. And now he's even saying that there's going to be a counter report released. The president now is going to have a counter narrative, and the president knows that reporters like you and I are going to have to follow it, and in a lot of ways, are going to have to report on what the president is saying if he puts up his own counter report. So I think we're going to start heading into days where the last two years are going to seem almost quiet compared to what might be coming.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor joining us via Skype. Thanks so much.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Thanks.

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