Trump ousts Priebus, names John Kelly chief of staff

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Friday he was appointing Homeland Security head John Kelly to be White House chief of staff, ending the tumultuous six-month tenure of Reince Priebus.

'I resigned and he accepted it,' Priebus says in interview with CNN

President Donald Trump announced on Twitter Friday that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, left, will be his new White House Chief of Staff, replacing Reince Priebus. (Susan Walsh and Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

President Donald Trump announced Friday he was appointing Homeland Security head John Kelly to be White House chief of staff, ending the tumultuous six-month tenure of Reince Priebus.

After months of speculation about Priebus's fate, Trump tweeted the decision just as he landed in Washington after an event in New York in which he lavishly praised Kelly's performance at Homeland Security.

Priebus, the former Republican National Committee head, was the frequent target of rumours about his job security, the victim of a long whisper campaign by Trump allies and the subject of a remarkable, profanity-laced public rebuke this week by the new White House communications director.

"I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American....," Trump said on Twitter.

He also saluted Priebus, the chief of staff he had just pushed out.

"I would like to thank Reince Priebus for his service and dedication to his country. We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!"

On an interview with CNN, Priebus said he offered to resign on Thursday after discussing the issue with Trump.

"I think you may know I have been obviously talking to the president for a few days about this, and ultimately I formally resigned yesterday," said Priebus. "And you know, the president was great. He wanted to include me in figuring out how and who would be a great successor and a good chief of staff. I think General Kelly is a brilliant pick."

"I resigned and he accepted it," he said.

Speaking to reporters on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, Trump said: "Reince is a good man. John Kelly will do a fantastic job."

Kelly is a retired Marine four-star general.

Kelly was the first member of Trump's cabinet to visit Canada when he travelled to Ottawa in March to meet with Liberal cabinet ministers, including Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a written statement praising Kelly as "one of the true stars of the administration."

"He is respected by everyone, especially the people at the Department of Homeland Security. The entire administration loves him and no one is comparable. He will begin on Monday morning and a cabinet meeting will follow his swearing in Monday morning," Sanders said in the statement.

Sanders said the president and Priebus "accomplished a lot together."

She said Priebus was "loyal in his dedication to the president" and added that the president "thanks him and his family for his great service to the country, and he will always be a member of the Trump Team."

White House in-fighting 

Priebus never could bring a semblance of order to the team of in-fighting rivals who populate Trump's West Wing, and questions about his future have long swirled around the office. Those questions sharply escalated this week with the arrival of Anthony Scaramucci, the hard-charging communications director who was hired over Priebus's objections.

White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci talks to the media outside the White House in Washington earlier this week. He appeared to point the finger at Priebus for a 'leak' of financial information. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Priebus's already tense relationship with Scaramucci took a darker turn over the past two days when the communications chief suggested in a late-night tweet that Priebus was one of the "leakers" that Trump has railed against. The New Yorker published an interview Thursday in which Scaramucci called Priebus, amid an avalanche of vulgarity, a "paranoid schizophrenic."

During his CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer, Priebus declined to address Scaramucci's scathing remarks.

"I'm not going to respond to it," he said. "I'm not going to get into the mud on those sort of things."

Pressed on the leaking allegation, Priebus said, "That's ridiculous, Wolf. Come on."

He added that Scaramucci's comments didn't honour the president. "I'm going to honour the president every day and I'm going to honour our country and I'm not going to get into all this personal stuff."

Priebus added that he thinks Kelly should try to get to the bottom of the issue of media leaks at the White House.

Both Scaramucci and Priebus travelled to New York's Long Island with Trump on Friday for an event where the president highlighted efforts to crack down on the gang MS-13. Priebus took the return flight to Washington, his fate sealed in the tweets that were sent by the president just as he stepped off the plane. Priebus did not respond to reporters who shouted questions.

Limited power

From day one, Priebus's power has been limited compared with past officials with his title. In a highly unusual arrangement, Trump said at the outset that Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon would serve as "equal partners" in implementing his agenda.

Priebus, who hails from Wisconsin and has deep ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan, had grown increasingly isolated in the White House, as past Republican National Committee colleagues and other allies have left or been pushed out of the West Wing. Those who have departed include former deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh, outgoing press secretary Sean Spicer and press aide Michael Short.

Scaramucci was the latest top aide to be granted a direct line to Trump, and it became increasingly unclear who actually reported to Priebus.

Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, thanked Priebus on Twitter Friday evening. 

"Thank you @Reince, old friend, for a job well done. I know you will continue to serve our great nation."

McCain also extended congratulations to Kelly.

"Congratulations, General Kelly! We all have the highest confidence in you."

Deputy Homeland Security secretary Elaine Duke will take over as acting secretary.

With a file from Reuters and CBC News