John McEntee was baffled when he got word of his imminent firing from the White House on Monday. So McEntee, the president’s trusted “body man,” went straight to Chief of Staff John Kelly.
He asked for a lifeline.
Instead, an apologetic Kelly simply told him there was nothing that could be done, and that he would soon be escorted off the grounds by White House security, according to two sources familiar with the situation. He was then removed so swiftly he was not allowed to collect his belongings.
Thus ended, suddenly, McEntee’s nearly three year run at the president’s side, during which he had endeared himself to the Trump family and the circle of top aides and associates who have surrounded the president since he kicked off his run for the White House.
During the confusion that immediately followed, McEntee speculated to stunned friends that the sudden turn of events could have had something to do with his penchant for online gambling, but that he wasn’t certain. As of Wednesday morning, he was still waiting for an official explanation from either the White House or federal authorities reportedly investigating his conduct, according to those with knowledge of the matter.
News reports on Tuesday, however, seemed to confirm McEntee’s suspicions.
The Wall Street Journal, which broke the news of McEntee’s ouster, subsequently reported that his firing was rooted in an online gambling habit and resulting tax issues that had prevented him from obtaining a security clearance necessary for his role in the West Wing.
The Journal reported that those issues are currently the subject of a probe by the Secret Service, the agency charged with investigating some categories of financial crimes, including computer-based criminal activity. The Secret Service declined to comment to The Daily Beast, and the White House did not respond to a similar inquiry.
Personal financial disclosure forms filed with the White House in March 2017 show that McEntee had two bank accounts collectively containing between $115,000 and $300,000, but he did not disclose ownership of any securities, property, or other assets.
Though he’s out at the White House, McEntee’s role in Trump-world continues nearly uninterrupted. He had already lined up a position on the president’s reelection campaign, and it was assumed within the White House and in pro-Trump circles that as a veteran of 2016 team, he would return to the campaign trail for the 2020 run.
The campaign, currently helmed by Trump digital guru Brad Parscale, announced his hiring on Tuesday, almost immediately after the news of his firing broke, in a press release that also heralded the official arrival of Katrina Pierson, a lead spokesperson for Trump’s 2016 campaign and another shoo-in for the Trump reelection effort. Both Pierson and McEntee were given the title of “senior advisor.”
A source familiar with the situation said the news reports on Tuesday would not have affected McEntee’s hiring anyway, and that the campaign plans to keep him on board in spite of reports of a federal investigation. McEntee could not be reached for comment on the circumstances of his White House departure or future plans.
Similar clearance issues have caused the White House major personnel and public relations headaches of late. Kelly has pledged to revoke the interim security clearances of White House officials who fail to secure those clearances on a permanent basis. That has limited the purviews of a number of senior staffers, most notably Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, whose policy portfolio has been trimmed considerably due to his difficulties in obtaining a clearance.
Other staffers have been let go entirely, such as Justin Caporale, the former director of operations for First Lady Melania Trump, who resigned last week. The widespread security-clearance problems were brought into public view largely by the scandal surrounding the firing of former Trump aide Rob Porter, whose ex-wives publicly detailed the emotional and physical abuse they allegedly endured by him.
But unlike a disgraced former rising star like Porter, McEntee continues to have friends in high places. Those close to the president consider consider him mobbed up with “the originals,” a term used by Trump loyalists to denote longtime, trustworthy allies and aides.
That loyalty is translating into some much-needed support. As one source described it, Trump-world is currently in “protect-Johnny mode.”