US President Donald Trump is considering a major shake-up of his senior staff that could include chief of staff John Kelly, as he prepares to deal with the fallout from the midterm elections and the looming outcome of the Russia investigation.
In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, Trump said he was weighing a change of “three or four or five positions,” but gave no details or a timetable. "I need flexibility," he added.
The president hinted at a willingness to dismiss Kelly, despite a previous pledge to keep his chief of staff for the remainder of his term in office.
While praising Kelly’s work ethic, Trump said, “There are certain things that I don’t like that he does.”
“There are a couple of things where it’s just not his strength. It’s not his fault. It’s not his strength,” he said, adding that Kelly himself might want to leave the administration.
Trump has floated possible replacements for Kelly, including Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers.
Ayers, 36, has been described as an assertive strategist who could help the White House better navigate the perils of the newly-empowered Democrats and the challenges of Trump’s re-election campaign in 2020.
There is also widespread speculation that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is especially vulnerable as Trump continues to crack down on immigrants entering the US from the southern border.
The president said he wished Nielsen would be tougher in implementing his immigration policies and enforcing border security.
"I like her a lot. I respect her a lot. She's very smart," Trump said of Nielsen. "I want her to get much tougher, and we'll see what happens there. But I want to be extremely tough."
Trump also discussed Mira Ricardel, a deputy national security adviser who is being moved to another position in the administration following clashes with first lady Melania Trump, who called for her dismissal.
Another recent staff change by Trump, replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with his chief of staff, Matt Whitaker, came up during the interview.
Trump dismissed Sessions soon after the midterm election early this month, provoking bitter criticism from Democrats who saw the move as an effort to gird the administration for the long-awaited report on the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Whitaker has spoken unfavorably about the probe in the past, hinting that an attorney general could starve Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team by cutting its budget.
Trump told Fox News he would not intervene if Whitaker tried to rein in the investigation.
"It's going to be up to him," he said of his new attorney general. "I really believe he's going to do what's right. I would not get involved."
Trump has repeatedly denied allegations that his campaign colluded with Moscow and has condemned the Mueller investigation as a political "witch hunt."
Democrats, who gained control of the House of Representatives in the midterm election, have now more oversight over the Trump administration.