Chief of Staff John Kelly announced that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on the toilet when he told him he was about to be fired.
Kelly revealed the surprise anecdote in a room of reporters and senior Trump administration officials Friday.
Sources at the off-the-record meeting, say that Kelly told the crowd that Tillserson had been suffering from a stomach bug during a diplomatic trip to Africa and had been using the bathroom when he got the call from Kelly.
Kelly then broke the news that Trump was planned to fire him, the Daily Beast reports. Days later, Tillerson was fired in a tweet by the president.
Sources say Trump and Tillerson never got on. Tillerson officially leaves the State Department at the end of the month.
Meanwhile at the meeting, Kelly made another risque joke about incoming chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow’s former cocaine habit.
The conservative TV analyst Larry Kudlow was named as economic adviser on Wednesday, after Gary Cohn quit over trade disagreements.
Kudlow has been very open about his past battles with drugs and has been sober for more than two decades.
Kelly also hinted that many of the rumors of cabinet members up on the chopping block, could have been spread by Trump himself, Axios reported.
The toilet-based anecdote is an unusually candid admission for the chief of staff, who has previously tried to cover for Tillerson and reportedly tried to keep him in his post.
He was reportedly furious when Trump decided to oust Tillerson in a tweet
Kelly was so angry at the way Tillerson’s Tuesday firing played in the press that he shouted at the television on Air Force One.
The scene aboard the presidential plane as Donald Trump departed for California was described by Politico.
It capped a chaotic morning that saw the Kelly-led White House and the State Department insisting on contradictory timelines covering when Tillerson learned he would be replaced as America’s most senior diplomat.
The public and most journalists learned Trump had swung the axe on Twitter. Tillerson’s chief spokesman Steven Goldstein said the secretary was blindsided and had yet to hear from the president personally.
Trump fired Goldstein, too.
White House aides initially claimed that Kelly had called Tillerson last Friday, interrupting a night’s sleep in Africa to let him know the president planned to relieve him of duty. Kelly has since said that Tillerson was on the toilet during the call.
Some reports describe Kelly only advising Tillerson to watch Trump’s Twitter account closely in the ensuing days. Others relate a franker conversation.
In that latter version of events, Tillerson asked Kelly to persuade the president to keep his powder dry until he returned to the U.S. on Monday.
The then-secretary cut his Africa trip short by a day, giving no reason at the time.
Goldstein attributed it vaguely to ‘demands in the secretary’s schedule.’
Tillerson would only say on Tuesday that he had received a lunchtime call from Trump during the president’s cross-country flight, along with a separate call from Kelly – both conversations happening after the tweet heard ’round the diplomatic world.
In an apparent snub, he didn’t thank Trump for his posting – or even mention him by name – during a brief statement Tuesday afternoon.
Tillerson’s frustration at being sacked over social media has a precedent: Former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus found out Kelly had replaced him when Trump tweeted from Air Force One, while it idled on a tarmac and Priebus sat in a car nearby.
The outgoing diplomat told reporters shortly after 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday that he had talked with Trump around lunchtime. The president’s unexpected tweet came before 9:00 a.m.
‘I received a call today from the President of the United States a little after noontime from Air Force One,’ he said.
‘I’ve also spoken to White House Chief of Staff Kelly to ensure we have clarity as to the days ahead.’
The shaken-sounding outgoing cabinet secretary explained that his official ending date will be March 31, and that he aims for an ‘orderly and smooth transition’ for his replacement, CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
President Trump said Thursday in the Oval Office that news reports of a coming mass exodus from his White House are ‘very false.’
Trump has been frustrated by stories that project as many as five senior officials following Cohn and Tillerson out the door.
‘They wrote a story about staff changes today that was very false,’ Trump said, without singling out any news outlet. ‘We made a wonderful change. I think Mike Pompeo is going to be an incredible secretary of state.’
‘I’ve gotten to know a lot of people over the last year … so there will always be change, but very little.’
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly could all be primed to exit the administration.