John Kelly is leaving his job as White House Chief of Staff and it looks like he wants to clear some things up before he goes. In a new interview with the Los Angeles Times, Kelly says that Trump’s border wall actually isn’t a wall, a statement that indicates clear discrepancies in the language used to describe Trump’s plan for the border.
“To be honest, it’s not a wall,” Kelly said.
But Trump has been calling it that and his demand for its funding precipitated the current partial government shutdown.
Kelly clarified that the administration dropped the idea of building a solid concrete wall soon after Trump took office after consultations with Customs and Border Protection agents.
“The president still says ‘wall’ — oftentimes frankly he’ll say ‘barrier’ or ‘fencing,’ now he’s tended toward steel slats,” he added. “But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it.”
In what seems like an attempt to distance himself from the Trump administration’s stance on on immigration, Kelly expressed compassion for people who feel compelled to illegally cross the US-Mexico border for a better life.
“Illegal immigrants, overwhelmingly, are not bad people,” Kelly said. “I have nothing but compassion for them, the young kids.”
Outgoing White House Chief of Staff John Kelly says President Trump's border wall is "not a wall," and the idea was abandoned "early on" in the administration https://t.co/RT1I2E864G pic.twitter.com/3Lqfy9Urpz
— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 30, 2018
At another point in the interview he placed the blame for the administration’s immigrant family separation policy squarely on the shoulders of former attorney general Jeff Sessions.
“What happened was Jeff Sessions, he was the one that instituted the zero-tolerance process on the border that resulted in both people being detained and the family separation,” Kelly said of the policy that caused the separation of thousands of families. “He surprised us.”
Trump requested Sessions’s resignation in November after the two butted heads over his recusal from the ongoing investigation into Russian election tampering.
According to an unnamed White House official, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was “forced” to take most of the heat for it even though Sessions issued the memo that instituted the policy. As the Washington Post reported back in June, protesters even convened outside of Nielsen’s home to demand an end to the policy. Protesters also confronted her while she ate at a Mexican restaurant that’s located close to the White House.
John Kelly is set to formally leave the Trump administration in January 2019. Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, currently serves as acting White House chief of staff.