White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE reportedly gave GOP lawmakers the green light to rebuke President TrumpDonald TrumpSenate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale Crenshaw slams House Freedom Caucus members as 'grifters,' 'performance artists' Senate confirms Biden's nominee to lead Customs and Border Protection MORE's controversial remarks from his joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Three sources told Vanity Fair on the condition of anonymity that Kelly was furious after Trump stood with Putin during their summit in Helsinki, Finland, and sided with his denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump sparked major backlash among U.S. lawmakers and the intelligence community by siding with Putin over the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia did intervene in an effort to help Trump win.
Trump also blamed special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE's investigation for the poor relationship between the U.S. and Russia.
Kelly told Trump that his remarks might worsen the situation with Mueller, according to Vanity Fair, which reported that the chief of staff then called Republicans on Capitol Hill and told them they could publicly speak out against Trump's comments.
It's unclear who Vanity Fair's source for its report is, and the White House did not respond to a request for comment on the report.
GOP lawmakers have largely criticized Trump's performance in Helsinki — even those who do not typically split with the president.
Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeRubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees Senate confirms Thomas Nides as US ambassador to Israel Flake, Cindy McCain among latest Biden ambassadors confirmed after delay MORE (R-Ariz.) called Trump's statements "shameful," and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcConnell faces GOP pushback on debt deal Bottom line GOP senators introduce bill targeting Palestinian 'martyr payments' MORE (R-S.C.) said they were a "sign of weakness."
Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFormer Sen. Bob Dole dies at 98 No time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power MORE (R-Wis.) said it was wrong to draw a moral equivalence between Russia and the U.S. and insisted the intelligence community is correct in its assessment of Russian interference.
Kelly has stood by the president through other bouts of intense public criticism, but sources told Vanity Fair this was different. They attributed Trump's quick rollback partially to Kelly's response.
Trump on Tuesday tried to walk back his remarks, claiming he misspoke when he said he didn't see "any reason that it would be" Russia that interfered.
"I would like to clarify, in a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't,' " Trump said. "The sentence should have been, 'I don’t see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia.' "
Trump also said Tuesday that he believes Russia interfered in the presidential election, but again muddied the waters by repeating a claim he has made previously that other parties could have also interfered.
Former Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller noted to Vanity Fair that a 24-hour turnaround is abnormal for Trump.
"Any of these other kerfuffles, if he had addressed it the next day, we wouldn’t have had that many days of things like 'shithole countries,' " Miller said.
Kelly is reportedly preparing to leave the White House as early as this summer, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report.