Kelly said that when Vindman heard Trump telling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that he wanted investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, he was guided by what the US military teaches — that you report to your superiors actions which you believe to be wrong.
The Atlantic reported that Kelly explained, “We teach them, ‘Don’t follow an illegal order. And if you’re ever given one, you’ll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss.'”
We have come to an extraordinary moment in the United States when some of the most senior retired military leaders in the country are publicly taking President Trump to task. Traditionally, such officers have not taken political positions, even in retirement. And now Kelly, who was Trump’s chief of staff in the White House — historically the cabinet official who spends the most time with the president — is one of those public critics.
While Kelly’s comments are the most wide-ranging public critique of the President and his policies by any of the generals who served in cabinet posts in the Trump administration, others have also spoken out.
In his comments this week, Kelly also poured cold water on one of Trump’s pet foreign policy projects, some kind of nuclear deal with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, saying that he “never did think (Kim) would do anything other than play us for a while.” And Kelly pushed back on Trump’s repeated claims that the media is “the enemy of the people,” saying, “We need a free media.”
Kelly is one of several generals who have served in high-profile posts in the Trump administration; among the others were former Secretary of Defense, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, and former national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
Mattis and Kelly have a deep and longstanding relationship. During the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Mattis and Kelly led the 1st Marine Division into Baghdad. When they were working for President Trump they also worked together closely.
Now that Kelly has laid down a marker with his criticisms of Trump, might Mattis? I doubt it. Mattis ducked every opportunity to do so on his book tour in September to promote his memoir, “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead.” Mattis noted in his book, “I’m old fashioned: I don’t write about sitting presidents.”
As I reported in “Trump and His Generals,” at a party for Mattis in Washington, DC, to celebrate the publication of his memoir, Mary Louise Kelly, the co-anchor of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” asked Mattis what it would take for him to criticize President Trump publicly.
Could there ever come a time when he felt he had to speak out if he felt that the country was truly imperiled? Mattis became animated saying he would never do that, observing that, “Mike Flynn and John Allen—I could not disagree more strongly with what they did.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn had campaigned for Trump and had led chants of “Lock her up!” at the 2016 Republican convention, while Allen, a retired four-star Marine general like Mattis, had spoken at the Democratic convention the same year and had made his own spirited speech in favor of Hillary Clinton.