Kelly Brings in New Deputy, Further Tightening Discipline on Trump White House

US Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly
John Kelly / Getty Images
• September 11, 2017 12:37 pm


White House chief of staff John Kelly has appointed a new principal deputy who has already begun enforcing stricter discipline on the West Wing.

Kirstjen Nielsen, a longtime aide to Kelly, now functions as his gatekeeper in what the New York Times described as a "little-noticed bureaucratic earthquake." Nielsen handles much of the daily operations within the White House, and some administration officials paint a picture of Kelly's enemies being furious about Nielsen helping him tighten his grip.

"Gatekeepers are generally not beloved," Jonathan Hoffman, who was hired by Nielsen at the Department of Homeland Security, told Politico. "But that's why it's an important job."

That's included such measures as putting Omarosa Manigault, the former star of "The Apprentice" on a so-called "no-fly list" of people he deems not worthy of attending serious meetings.

A White House staffer denied that report, however, saying it was "completely false."

The New York Times described Manigault as having "an ill-defined job and a penchant for dropping into meetings where she was not invited."

Those fighting for President Donald Trump's campaign agenda have reportedly opposed the ascent of Kelly and National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster, but some leaders of that wing have recently departed. Former White House advisers Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka vehemently defended Trump's campaign agenda, only to find themselves working for that agenda from outside the administration.

"The real believers, the real ‘MAGA' [Make America Great Again] fighters inside the building were being progressively boxed out, or fired from the [National Security Council]," Gorka told the Washington Free Beacon last month.

The Times described Kelly and Nielsen's style of leadership as the "old normal" for White House operations but said that it still qualifies as a revolution for an administration as unorthodox as Trump's. Nielsen enforces Kelly's standards for meetings, which often entail excluding some aides who had gotten used to wandering in and out of the Oval Office.

Roger Stone, a political operative who advised Trump's campaign and supports his campaign position on non-intervention, told Politico that the hiring of Nielsen is another victory for the "neocon" wing of the White House.

"At Homeland, she actively ensured that no Trump supporters were appointed or hired," Stone said. "Like McMaster and Kelly, she is a neocon who likely did not vote for Donald Trump and certainly does not support his non-interventionist worldview."

"If the president fails, it will be because of appointments like this," Stone added.

Nielsen's emails about exclusive meetings now carry the addendum "principals only." Trump's outside advisers who had gotten used to calling into the White House now are not having their calls answered. This has led some campaign loyalists to label her "Nurse Ratched" amongst themselves, referring to the mental hospital head nurse in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Nielsen fills a role similar to another woman previously on staff, Katie Walsh, who came in with then-chief of staff Reince Priebus but reportedly did not receive his consistent support. As the chief of staff's deputy, Walsh had to ruffle some feathers as well and left after just a few months. Kelly is intent on preventing his subordinate from being similarly undermined.

Kelly has targeted nationalists within the White House and largely succeeded in forcing them out: Not only were those further on the right removed from the National Security Council, but Kelly was also behind forcing Bannon out, the Times reported.

Part of the Trump White House's rockiness may have come from the lack of attention to structural details. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R.) proposed an organizational chart for the West Wing with names of potential hires but was removed from the presidential transition team.

Nielsen is is an expert on national and cyber security and worked in the George W. Bush Administration. Her experience there was one of stricter order, which she is now working to rebuild inside the current White House.

UPDATE: 1:12 P.M.: This article was updated with the report that Kelly has banned Manigault from important meetings.