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Trump's ex-chief of staff agrees with Mattis: 'We need to look harder at who we elect'

Former White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE said Friday he agrees with former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisBiden's is not a leaky ship of state — not yet Rejoining the Iran nuclear deal would save lives of US troops, diplomats The soft but unmatched power of US foreign exchange programs MORE's blistering rebuke of President TrumpDonald TrumpDC goes to the dogs — Major and Champ, that is Biden on refugee cap: 'We couldn't do two things at once' Taylor Greene defends 'America First' effort, pushes back on critics MORE and his handling of protests in the aftermath of George Floyd's death.

"I agree with him," Kelly said during an interview with former Trump communications director Anthony ScaramucciAnthony ScaramucciAnthony Scaramucci joining CNBC as a contributor Biden doubles down on normal at White House Pence, other GOP officials expected to skip Trump send-off MORE.

"He’s quite a man, Gen. Jim Mattis, and for him to do that tells you where he is relative to the concern he has for our country," Kelly added.

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Kelly, a four-star general and former Homeland Security secretary for Trump, offered his most extensive comments yet about the controversy surrounding the president's conduct in recent weeks.

The former top Trump administration official defended Mattis repeatedly, lamented the growing partisan divide and appeared at one point to implicitly criticize Trump's governing style, urging Americans to elect those who will focus on all their constituents, not just their core supporters.

"I think we really need to step back. I think we need to look harder at who we elect," he said. 

"What is their character like? What are their ethics?" he continued. "Are they willing, if they’re elected, to represent all of their constituents, not just the base, but all of their constituents? And then look at the politics."

The interview, which was scheduled weeks in advance, came days after law enforcement used smoke canisters and chemical irritants to disperse peaceful protesters assembled near the White House a short time before Trump and administration officials walked to nearby St. John's Church for a photo-op.

Kelly, asked what his counsel on the clearing of protesters on Monday would have been, said he would have considered whether the White House had the legal authority to act and whether it was "good for America."

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"I would argue that the end result of that was predictable," he said. "The jury’s still out on tear gas and who got hit … but I would’ve argued against it. Recommended against it."

Kelly became the latest military figure to back Mattis or criticize the president in the wake of Monday's chaos.

Mattis, a widely respected general who has remained largely mum since leaving the Trump administration in late 2018, accused the president of deliberately dividing the nation and condemned the use of force against protesters.

"Never did I dream that troops ... would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside," Mattis wrote.

Mattis's scathing critique of his former boss earned blowback from Trump and some of his allies. The president claimed he fired the former Defense secretary, calling him the "world’s most overrated general."

Kelly directly refuted two of Trump's attacks, saying Mattis was not fired but chose to resign and rejecting the idea that he is "overrated."

Kelly left the White House as chief of staff around the same time as Mattis, exiting the role after a turbulent year-and-a-half on the job.

"Over time, every relationship up there begins to deteriorate for a lot of different reasons," he said Friday.