John Kelly to leave White House at year's end

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Post-Mueller, Trump has a good story to tell for 2020 MORE announced on Saturday that White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE will leave his job by the end of the year, the latest and highest-profile move in a shake-up of Trump's team following Republican losses in November's midterm elections.

Kelly was picked by Trump in July 2017 to bring order to his chaotic White House. But their relationship gradually deteriorated as the president bucked at the constraints the retired Marine Corps general tried to impose.

Trump told reporters at the White House on Saturday that he would select Kelly's successor, possibly someone on an interim basis, within “a day or two.”

“John Kelly will be leaving, retiring. I don't know if I can say ‘retiring,’ ” Trump said on the South Lawn before leaving for Philadelphia to attend the Army-Navy football game. “But he's a great guy. John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year.”

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Trump added that he “appreciate[s] his service very much.”

Nick Ayers, a Republican operative who serves as chief of staff to Vice President Pence, is widely considered the front-runner to replace Kelly as Trump's top aide.

Ayers, 36, possesses the political chops that some people close to the president believe he needs heading into his reelection in 2020. Kelly had not previously served in a political role, having served roughly four decades in the Marine Corps before entering the Trump administration.

But Ayers is a controversial figure in Trump's orbit and some of the president's aides have resisted his hiring.

The shake-up comes at a pivotal time for Trump, who is confronting the reality of dealing with a Democratic majority in the House next year as well as a rapidly escalating Russia investigation. 
 
The president announced Friday that former Attorney General William Barr is his pick to again take the reins at the Justice Department. If confirmed, Barr will play a key role in overseeing special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's probe.
 
Presidents traditionally make staff changes following midterm elections, but the latest reshuffle has been tinged by Trumpian drama.
 
Trump announced Barr's expected nomination weeks after he forced out Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump poised to roll back transgender health protections Trump claims Mueller didn't speak to those 'closest' to him And the winner of the Robert Mueller Sweepstakes is — Vladimir Putin MORE as attorney general via Twitter the day after Election Day. One day before, at a White House news conference, the president refused to express confidence in Sessions and Kelly.
 
“I mean, there’s no great secret. A lot of administrations make changes after midterms. I will say that, for the most part, I’m very, very happy with this Cabinet,” Trump said when asked about Kelly. 
 
When pressed about whether Kelly is leaving, he responded,  that he had not “heard” about Kelly's departure but added that “people leave.” 
 
“It’s a very exhausting job,” the president added. “They start off, they’re young people, they’re there for two years, and they’re old by the time they leave.” 
 
Kelly's exit will likely fuel speculation that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenNielsen was warned not to talk to Trump about new Russian election interference: report DHS head: Separating migrant families 'not on the table' Trump moves to crack down on visa overstays MORE could be the next top administration official to go. Nielsen is close to Kelly and has come under fire from Trump over her efforts to enforce immigration laws. 
 
Next to Sessions, perhaps no administration official's departure had been rumored for longer than Kelly's.
 
The White House made a point in July of saying Kelly would remain in his post through the 2020 presidential election following a barrage of stories saying his departure was imminent. 
 
But that did little to quell talk that the chief of staff would leave the White House sooner. 
 
Multiple news reports on Friday said Kelly planned to announce his resignation in the coming days, with The New York Times reporting that he planned to tell senior staff on Monday.
 
However, Trump confirmed in his remarks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on Saturday that Kelly would be leaving.
 
The announcement came after Kelly attended a pre-planned dinner on Friday night with Trump and his senior staff at the White House. 
 
Kelly and Trump's relationship had become frayed as the president insisted he operate with his freewheeling style over the chief of staff's wishes, such as making off-the-books phone calls to friends and allies and receiving former campaign hands for visits at the White House.
 
The chief of staff's standing grew increasingly tenuous as multiple reports emerged that he insulted Trump behind his back and butted heads with members of the first family and high-ranking advisers. 
 
Journalist Bob Woodward reported in his book “Fear” that Kelly called the president “unhinged” and an “idiot,” and likened the White House to “crazytown.” Kelly had denied reports he called the president an idiot. 
 
But Kelly continued to hang on to his job, reportedly in part because Trump was wary of firing the retired four-star Marine general.
 
The chief of staff's polished image began to crack in the fall of 2017, when he was criticized for making false accusations about Rep. Frederica WilsonFrederica Patricia WilsonJuan Williams: Racial shifts spark fury in Trump and his base Dem behind impeachment push to boycott State of the Union Democrats seek to take on Trump at State of the Union MORE (Fla.) after the Democratic congresswoman attacked Trump for his comments to the family of a slain soldier. 
 
Kelly became embroiled in further controversy in February over his handling of spousal abuse allegations against former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, a close ally. 
 
Last month, Kelly reportedly got into a screaming match with national security adviser John Bolton over immigration, an account the White House did not deny.  And there were long-persistent rumors of friction between Kelly and Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpAfrica's women can change a continent: Will Ivanka give them her full support? A Trump visit to Africa is important — and carries some urgency On The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job MORE and Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerHasan Minhaj calls out Kushner at event over ties to Saudi crown prince Kushner saying immigration plan will be 'neutral' on legal admissions: report Dems charge ahead on immigration MORE, the president's daughter and son-in-law who both serve as senior advisers.
 
 
The next chief of staff will face the tough task of rebuilding Trump's team at the White House, which has been hollowed out by a steady stream of departures. 
 
Trump said Friday he will nominate Heather Nauert, a former Fox News personality who has been serving as the State Department's top spokesperson, to be Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyPollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump blocked renomination of Obama-era UN racism official, won't pick a replacement: report Trump says he considered nominating Ivanka to lead World Bank MORE's replacement as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. 
 
But many senior, mid- and junior-staff level positions remain open. Two political aides, Bill Stephen and Justin Clark, left the White House last week to work on Trump's reelection campaign and more departures are expected as the year comes to an end.
 
While Trump has said staff changes are normal for any White House, he has set records for the rate of turnover compared to previous presidents. 
 
Sixty-two percent of senior White House aides have resigned, taken other administration jobs or forced out of office, according to figures compiled by Brookings Institution scholar Kathryn Dunn Tenpas. That figure does not include Kelly's impending departure. 
 
Trump previously criticized his predecessor, former President Obama, for turnover in the chief of staff position. 
 
“3 Chief of Staffs in less than 3 years of being President: Part of the reason why @BarackObama can't manage to pass his agenda,” he tweeted in January 2012. 
 
Kelly's successor will be Trump's third chief of staff in less than three years in office. Kelly replaced Reince PriebusReinhold (Reince) Richard PriebusDems plot aggressive post-Mueller moves, beginning with McGahn House Judiciary chairman subpoenas former White House lawyer McGahn Trump snapped at McMaster for taking notes during meeting: report MORE last year after a tumultuous six-month tenure as Trump's top aide.. 
 
Brett Samuels contributed to this report, which was updated 3 p.m.