By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House Chief of Staff John Kelly assured aides to President Donald Trump on Friday that no immediate personnel changes were in the works, as he sought to tamp down a wave of uncertainty generated by persistent indications Trump wants more turnover.
Days after firing U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump has been talking to confidants about making changes, including replacing H.R. McMaster as national security adviser and David Shulkin as Veterans Affairs secretary, sources familiar with the conversations told Reuters this week.
Kelly, who himself at times has been the subject of the president’s ire, spoke to senior White House aides on Friday morning and assured them “no immediate personnel changes” were expected, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters.
Sanders also said Trump told her on Thursday night he had “no intention” of replacing McMaster, after the Washington Post reported that a move to force McMaster out was imminent.
“The president said that it was not accurate and he had no intention of changing, that they had a great working relationship and he looked forward to continue working with him,” Sanders said.
Whether the reassuring words from Kelly and Sanders would calm staff nerves was far from clear. Trump himself has fed the narrative of chaos inside the White House.
“There will always be change,” he told reporters earlier this week, adding that he wanted to see different ideas.
Sources familiar with Trump’s view of McMaster say he grates on the president’s nerves sometimes because of his button-downed style and finds his briefings to be too long and academic.
He has grown unhappy with Shulkin over an internal watchdog’s finding that the secretary had his wife’s airfare paid for by taxpayers during an official trip to Europe last year, a White House official said.
A move by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to buy a $31,000 dining set for his office raised eyebrows at the White House, but there was no indication he had fallen out of favor with Trump.
A Trump confidant told Reuters that the president is being cautioned to go slow because if he makes too many changes too quickly, it furthers an image of instability at the White House.
“He’s very much of the notion that he wants to do it all,” the confidant said. “What he’s figured out over the last 15 months is his gut is the one he trusts the most.”
The sources familiar with Trump’s view of McMaster said he had considered former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, who met Trump at the White House last week, among possible options to replace the national security adviser.
Bolton, however, could face questions about whether he would be able to carry out Trump’s foreign policy and subjugate his own worldviews, which often involve the use of military force to settle conflicts.
(Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Tim Ahmann, Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)