John Kelly to leave White House at year's end

President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate 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 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 SessionsPresidential historian: Trump's actions may be 'definition of treason' if he knew about Russian interference efforts Trump admin seeks to roll back Obama-era policy on school discipline: report Trump: Sessions 'should be ashamed of himself' for allowing Russia probe to proceed 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 NielsenTrump to attend World Economic Forum in Davos for second straight year Trump admin seeks to roll back Obama-era policy on school discipline: report Federal judge postpones further action on Trump's asylum ban 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 WilsonOcasio-Cortez fires back at Conway: She has 'engaged in a War on Facts since Inauguration Day' Frederica Wilson: I never got an apology from John Kelly Conway says Ocasio-Cortez is '29-year-old who doesn't seem to know much about anything' 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 TrumpTrump to attend World Economic Forum in Davos for second straight year Trump charity agrees to dissolve amid allegations of a 'shocking pattern of illegality' Chris Matthews: Trump Jr., Ivanka ‘stand as the next dominoes to fall’ MORE and Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump to attend World Economic Forum in Davos for second straight year Pass the FIRST STEP Act to give second chances at the American Dream No reason to assume American relations with Mexico are rocky 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) HaleyNikki Haley: 'Israel wants a peace agreement but it doesn’t need one' Showdown at the Security Council? North Korea evading US sanctions: report 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. 
 
 
Brett Samuels contributed to this report, which was updated 3 p.m.