Reporters gathered at the White House on Friday were stunned when Chief of Staff John Kelly shared a very embarrassing story about outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The reporters were there with senior White House officials for an off-the-record meeting with Kelly, who was attempting to tamp down speculation about an impending administration staff purge. The Daily Beast was not invited, but was briefed on its contents by three sources with knowledge of the meeting.
According to those sources, Kelly recounted a very awkward conversation with Tillerson during which he informed the secretary that President Donald Trump would very likely soon fire him. The awkwardness was less a result of the contents of the conversation than its setting.
Tillerson, Kelly told the room, was suffering from a stomach bug during a diplomatic swing through Africa, and was using a toilet when Kelly broke the news to him.
Sources were stunned that, even in an off-record setting, Kelly would say this—to a room filled with White House officials and political reporters—about Tillerson, who does not officially leave the State Department until the end of the month.
Kelly is routinely touted as one of the more mature members of Trump’s top brass and has often been branded as one of the “adults” in charge.
The comment was especially bizarre given Kelly’s reported past cover for Tillerson. The chief of staff tried for months to keep the secretary of state in his post, The New York Times reported, and fumed at his dismissal.
A State Department spokesperson declined to comment.
A White House spokesman declined to comment when reached by The Daily Beast about the scatalogical comment from the White House chief of staff that further contributed to what has been a particularly inglorious end for Tillerson, days after he was sacked via tweet, without warning from the president.
It wasn’t Kelly’s only off color comment at the meeting. According to an Axios report, he also joked about incoming chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow’s former cocaine habit. Kudlow, who has been up front about his past drug problems, has been sober for 23 years. Axios also reported that Kelly said in the meeting that Trump himself was likely contributing to rumors and stories regarding chaos at the Cabinet and senior staff level.