chief of staff

Forceful Chief of Staff Grates on Trump, and the Feeling Is Mutual

WASHINGTON — President Trump was in an especially ornery mood after staff members gently suggested he refrain from injecting politics into day-to-day issues of governing after last month’s raucous rally in Arizona, and he responded by lashing out at the most senior aide in his presence.

It happened to be his new chief of staff, John F. Kelly.

Mr. Kelly, the former Marine general brought in five weeks ago as the successor to Reince Priebus, reacted calmly, but he later told other White House staff members that he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of serving his country. In the future, he said, he would not abide such treatment, according to three people familiar with the exchange.

While Mr. Kelly has quickly brought some order to a disorganized and demoralized staff, he is fully aware of the president’s volcanic resentment about being managed, according to a dozen people close to Mr. Trump, and has treaded gingerly through the minefield of Mr. Trump’s psyche. But the president has still bridled at what he perceives as being told what to do.

Like every other new sheriff in town Mr. Trump has hired to turn things around at the White House or in his presidential campaign, Mr. Kelly has gradually diminished in his appeal to his restless boss. What is different this time is that Mr. Trump, mired in self-destructive controversies and record-low approval ratings, needs Mr. Kelly more than Mr. Kelly needs him. Unlike many of the men and women eager to work for Mr. Trump over the years, the new chief of staff signed on reluctantly, more out of a sense of duty than a need for affirmation, personal enrichment or fame.

“It is inevitable that a guy who will not be contained and does not want to be handled or managed was going to rebel against the latest manager who wanted to control him,” said Roger Stone, the longtime Trump adviser, who believes Mr. Kelly represents a kind of management coup by “the triumvirate” of two powerful retired generals — Mr. Kelly and Jim Mattis, the defense secretary — and one general who is still in the Army, the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.

“Ultimately Donald Trump is his own man, and he’s going to resist all the control and regimented systems Kelly is trying to impose,” Mr. Stone said.

For the seven months of the Trump administration, the favorite parlor game in the West Wing has been guessing how long imperiled aides like Mr. Priebus would hang on before getting fired. But these days it is Mr. Kelly’s state of mind, not Mr. Trump’s, that concerns the beleaguered aides buoyed by the new chief’s imposition of structure and clear lines of authority.

The question now is how long Mr. Kelly will stay, with estimates ranging from a month to a year at the most. White House officials say that Mr. Kelly has given no indication he intends to leave anytime soon. He has thrown himself into long-term planning of the administration’s tax reform push, the president’s Asia trip in November and scheduling for the next several months, they said. Mr. Kelly declined through a White House spokeswoman to comment for this article.

For Mr. Trump, few ingredients matter more in a staff relationship than chemistry, and at times he and Mr. Kelly — whose soldierly demeanor masks a slashing sense of humor — have enjoyed a mostly easy rapport. At commencement ceremonies at the Coast Guard Academy in May, Mr. Kelly elicited a big laugh from the president after Mr. Trump was presented with a ceremonial sword and Mr. Kelly told him that “you can use that on the press.”

Mr. Trump, who has said he has surrounded himself with former military men from “central casting,” respects Mr. Kelly, aides said.

On Friday morning, in the midst of a series of tweets heralding the recovery from Hurricane Harvey, listing the great things coming from his administration and taking another jab at James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, the president restated his public admiration for his chief of staff.

Long-serving advisers and friends remember when Mr. Trump also embraced the tighter controls imposed by Paul Manafort when he was brought on as the campaign chairman in the middle of 2016. Then they saw Mr. Trump quickly turn on him.

But in his short time at the White House, Mr. Kelly, a 67-year-old native of Boston, has had the most significant impact of any of the campaign or White House aides who have worked for Mr. Trump, according to interviews with a dozen current and former Trump aides and associates. He has regimented, as no one has ever done before, the flow of paper, people and information inundating an omnivorous and undisciplined Mr. Trump.

The president, for his part, has marveled at the installation of management controls that would have been considered routine in any other White House.

“I now have time to think,” a surprised Mr. Trump has told one of his senior aides repeatedly over the last few weeks.

Mr. Kelly cannot stop Mr. Trump from binge-watching Fox News, which aides describe as the president’s primary source of information gathering. But Mr. Trump does not have a web browser on his phone, and does not use a laptop, so he was dependent on aides like Stephen K. Bannon, his former chief strategist, to hand-deliver printouts of articles from conservative media outlets.

Now Mr. Kelly has thinned out his package of printouts so much that Mr. Trump plaintively asked a friend recently where The Daily Caller and Breitbart were.

Mr. Kelly has told his staff, time and time again, that his goal is to rationalize the chaos that has engulfed the management of the West Wing. Managing Mr. Trump is beyond his — or anyone else’s — powers, he has said repeatedly.

While Mr. Trump still reaches out to allies outside the administration — especially old friends and associates like Corey Lewandowski, a former campaign manager; Richard LeFrak, a fellow developer originally from Queens; Mr. Bannon and a handful of others — more often than not it has been through the White House switchboard and not on his personal phone. And Mr. Kelly has usually listened in on the calls, according to two people with direct knowledge.

Even Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, who has unfettered access to her father, has made a point of giving Mr. Kelly a heads-up if she is going to talk to the president about policy or politics, according to one of Ms. Trump’s friends.

Mr. Kelly has his critics outside the administration, notably Mr. Stone, who has accused Mr. Kelly of keeping the president from his friends and allies. He also has critics inside the White House, who have begun to complain that their access to Mr. Kelly has been limited. But Mr. Kelly’s biggest accomplishments are ones that people outside the West Wing cannot see.

When North Korea fired a missile over northern Japan last week, for example, he counseled Mr. Trump to deliver a stern rebuke he had written himself through a strong, measured — and spell-checked — statement delivered via official White House email, rather than a bombastic Twitter message.

Mr. Kelly is close to Mr. Mattis and supported the Pentagon’s decision to slow-walk Mr. Trump’s order to ban transgender troops from serving in the military, opting for the creation of a panel to study the matter before implementing a policy that is highly popular with the president’s conservative base.

Despite his crackdown on illegal immigrants and support for the Muslim travel ban in his previous job as Homeland Security secretary, Mr. Kelly has been among those calling for Mr. Trump to proceed with caution on rolling back Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era policy protecting from deportation immigrants who entered the country illegally as minors.

And he has moved swiftly to dispatch aides he deems unqualified by temperament, experience or credential with a minimum of drama and fuss. Mr. Kelly, people close to the president said, backed the removals of Mr. Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, a flame-throwing White House staff member known more for his cable TV tirades than strategic acumen, and Anthony Scaramucci, the short-lived communications director who self-immolated in an expletive-filled interview with The New Yorker in July.

The chief of staff keeps his own counsel and travels light. He brought over only a small handful of staff members from the Department of Homeland Security, and confides to an even smaller circle, which includes Leon E. Panetta, for whom he served as a top aide when Mr. Panetta was defense secretary in the Obama administration.

But how long Mr. Kelly and the president, two men with such divergent approaches to the common goal of Mr. Trump’s success, will be able to coexist is unclear.

Mr. Kelly has not been talking about it, apart from saying he is committed to stabilizing the staff in the White House.

But one associate who spoke to Mr. Kelly last month said the former commander had remarked that his current assignment was by far the hardest job he had ever had. His favorite gig, he jokes, was his first: Marine grunt.


Reince Priebus Pushed Out After Rocky Tenure as Trump Chief of Staff

WASHINGTON — Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff who failed to impose order on a chaos-wracked West Wing, was pushed out on Friday after a stormy six-month tenure, and President Trump replaced him with John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security and retired four-star Marine general.

Mr. Trump announced Mr. Kelly’s appointment on Twitter shortly before 5 p.m. and only afterward sent out another message thanking Mr. Priebus for his service. “We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!” Mr. Trump wrote.

Mr. Priebus’s ouster was the latest convulsion in a White House that has been whipsawed by feuds and political setbacks in recent days. The president became convinced that Mr. Priebus was not strong enough to run the White House operation and that he needed a general to take charge. Mr. Kelly, who has demonstrated strong leadership at the Department of Homeland Security, had become a favorite of Mr. Trump’s.

Just hours earlier, the president had heaped praise on Mr. Kelly at an event in Long Island talking about the battle against the violent MS-13 gang. “I want to congratulate John Kelly, who has done an incredible job of secretary of homeland security,” the president said. “One of our real stars. Truly one of our stars. John Kelly is one of our great stars.”

But some advisers to Mr. Trump were opposed to the choice, arguing that Mr. Kelly did not have the political background for the job. “The president needs someone who understands the Trump constituency as his chief of staff, someone who has both administrative skills and political savvy,” Roger Stone, Mr. Trump’s off-and-on adviser, said, anticipating Mr. Kelly’s selection before the announcement was made.

Gen. John F. Kelly in April. President Trump has replaced Mr. Priebus with Mr. Kelly as the chief of staff.CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

Mr. Priebus, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, lost his job just hours after the president’s signature drive to repeal his predecessor’s health care program collapsed on the Senate floor and a day after an ugly feud with the new communications director erupted in a public airing of the deep animosities plaguing the White House.

The announcement capped a fraught 24 hours in which the president’s advisers waited for a change they had long anticipated. Mr. Priebus accompanied Mr. Trump on Air Force One for a day trip to Long Island as his fate was being decided. Making for a tense flight, his rival, Anthony Scaramucci, the communications director who had publicly vowed to force Mr. Priebus’s resignation, was also on the plane and in the motorcade.

In barely half a year on the job, Mr. Priebus never won the full confidence of the president nor was granted the authority to impose a working organizational structure on the West Wing. Always seeming to be on the edge of ouster, Mr. Priebus saw his fate finally sealed a week ago when Mr. Trump hired Mr. Scaramucci, an edgy Wall Street financier, over the chief of staff’s objections. Mr. Priebus’s ally, Sean Spicer, the press secretary, resigned in protest.

More than just a personnel dispute, the disagreement suggested a broader cleavage that would lead to Mr. Priebus’ resignation. In tapping Mr. Scaramucci, Mr. Trump was turning to a wealthy New Yorker who had become part of his inner circle, and who compensated in charisma and rapport with Mr. Trump and his family for what he lacked in governing experience.

Mr. Priebus represented a more conventional breed of senior White House figure, chosen by the president despite a career defined by the calculations of traditional Republican Party politics, which Mr. Trump regards as part of “the swamp” he was elected to drain.

Mr. Priebus and Mr. Spicer had told the president they believed Mr. Scaramucci, a gregarious hedge fund manager and fund-raiser, lacked the political experience and organizational skills required to serve in the role of communications director. In the end, however, those warnings fell on deaf ears and further soured Mr. Trump, who almost from the start suggested both publicly and privately that the job of his chief of staff was not safe.

Mr. Scaramucci made clear when he was hired that he did not report to Mr. Priebus but directly to the president and by Wednesday night was publicly suggesting that the chief of staff was a leaker and even threatened to seek an F.B.I. investigation. On Thursday, he went on television and dared Mr. Priebus to deny leaking and described the two of them as Cain and Abel, the biblical brothers whose rivalry results in one killing the other.

On Thursday evening, The New Yorker posted an interview with Mr. Scaramucci that included a profanity-laced tirade against Mr. Priebus. He called Mr. Priebus a “paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” who leaked information against him and vowed to get him fired. “He’ll be asked to resign very shortly,” Mr. Scaramucci said.

As party chairman last year, Mr. Priebus was slow to embrace Mr. Trump’s candidacy and the president, who sometimes called him “Reincey” in private, never let his chief of staff forget it. . Mr. Trump had often joked about his chief of staff’s long-term loyalty, and liked reminding the people around him that Mr. Priebus suggested that he consider dropping out after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape of Mr. Trump’s crude remarks about women were made public in October.

A native of Kenosha, Wis., Mr. Priebus rose through the ranks of the Republican Party to be his state’s chairman, amassing power by establishing relationships with party donors and becoming an effective operator within the national party, which he was chosen to lead in 2011. One of his top allies was a fellow Republican from Wisconsin, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who publicly defended Mr. Priebus on Thursday when no one in the White House would.

With many former members of President George W. Bush’s administration unwilling to work for a president they regard as unqualified or blackballed because of their opposition to Mr. Trump’s candidacy last year, Mr. Priebus staffed the West Wing with an assortment of Republican veterans and some of his core staff at the R.N.C., including his former deputy, Katie Walsh. But the assimilation of the R.N.C. into the West Wing was fraught and Ms. Walsh and others departed.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, soured on Mr. Priebus, partly because of what he has viewed as Mr. Spicer’s shortcomings. Other senior advisers bristled at his demeanor or suspected he was undermining him. An alliance of convenience with Stephen K. Bannon, the nationalist and decidedly anti-establishment chief strategist, seemed to fade in recent weeks.



General John F. Kelly is taking over for Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff, President Donald Trump announced via a tweet on Friday afternoon. The news came after days of reports about tensions between Priebus and the administration’s new director of communications, Anthony Scaramucci.

Kelly since January has been secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, after Trump nominated him for the position. The 67-year-old Kelly is a retired Marine Corps general who held senior command positions in Iraq and served as the combatant commander of the United States Southern Command. He was also senior military assistant to two secretaries of defense, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.

Related: Elaine Duke likely to become acting Homeland Security secretary

Kelly has taken a hard stance on border security and support for the military. He has supported Trump’s plan to construct a wall along the United States border with Mexico, calling it “essential” in order to stem “tremendous threats,” though he has said that a physical barrier alone “will not do the job.” He has also spoken about the threat posed by extremists, saying, “It’s everywhere. It’s constant. It’s nonstop.”

The retired general grew up in Boston and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1970. He later attended the University of Massachusetts and returned to the Marines. He is married, and three of his children have served in the Marines and one has been an FBI agent. (His son Robert was killed while on duty in Afghanistan in 2010.) “I believe in America and the principles upon which our country and way of life are guaranteed,” he said in January during his confirmation hearing to become homeland security secretary. “I believe in respect, tolerance and diversity of opinion. I have a profound respect for the rule of law and will always strive to uphold it. I have never had a problem speaking truth to power, and I firmly believe that those in power deserve full candor and my honest assessment and recommendations.”

I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American….

…and a Great Leader. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration

Minutes after the announcement on Friday, Trump tweeted, “I would like to thank Reince Priebus for his service and dedication to his country. We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!”

Kelly and Priebus brought very different backgrounds to the White House. While the new chief of staff has vast military experience, Priebus came from the GOP establishment, having been the longest-serving chairman of the Republican National Committee. Prior to becoming the chairman in 2011, he had been its general counsel.

In his six months as Homeland Security secretary, Kelly developed a positive reputation, according to insiders. “He’s quickly been able to boost morale around the department and he’s seen as a hands-on leader,” says James Norton, who was a deputy assistant secretary at Homeland Security under President George W. Bush and is now a strategist and adviser. “He’s seen as one of the stars at this point in the administration.”

Speculation about Priebus’s ouster had grown since the hiring of Scaramucci. The new communications director told CNN on Thursday about his relationship with Priebus: “I don’t know if this is repairable or not.” He also told The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza that he believedPriebus was leaking information and called him a “paranoid schizophrenic.” Kimberly Guilfoyle, a Fox News co-host who had dinner with Trump, Scaramucci and others on Wednesday, also reportedly told the president that Priebus needed to go.

Priebus resigned on Thursday, CNN reported shortly after Trump’s announcement about Kelly, citing a source close to Priebus.

With Kelly gone from Homeland Security, Elaine Duke, the current deputy secretary, could become acting secretary. Democratic members of the House Committee on Homeland Security have already criticized what they said seems like a hasty decision to remove the department secretary and install him elsewhere. “Unfortunately, as with most major decisions in this administration, it is clear that this was rushed and not well thought out,” Representative Bennie Thompson, ranking member of the committee, said in a statement. “The president must now replace Secretary Kelly with someone who is experienced, measured and understands that homeland security is not a partisan issue.”

This article has been updated to include more information about General John Kelly and his transition to White House chief of staff.

Netanyahu chief of staff heads to US to sort out settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz left for Washington on Sunday to discuss settlement building with the Trump administration.

He will join Ron Dermer, Israel’s Washington ambassador, to continue discussions with US special envoy Jason Greenblatt in an attempt to reach an understanding between Israel and US President Donald Trump’s administration about building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu left Israel on Saturday night for a three day trip to China, and the fact that Horowitz did not accompany the prime minister but went instead to Washington highlights the importance of the negotiations with the US.

Greenblatt visited Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan last week to gain a deeper understanding of the situation. Despite two meetings with Netanyahu during the course of the visit, no agreement was reached on settlement construction.

Netanyahu and Greenblatt made “progress on the issue of Israeli settlement construction following up on President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement in Washington last month to work out an approach that reflects both leaders’ views,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office issued after the second three-hour meeting Thursday night.

“Those discussions are continuing between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office,” it said.

Netanyahu and the Trump White House have been trying to reach an understanding on Israeli settlement activity since last month’s meeting between the Israeli leader and the US president, who in a joint press conference told Netanyahu that he wanted him to “hold back” on the settlements.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Netanyahu has been trying to get the White House’s approval for the construction of a new settlement — the first in some 25 years — to replace the illegal outpost of Amona, which was evacuated and demolished last month.

Last month, he indicated to members of his security cabinet that the government may have to back off the pledge, drawing vociferous protests from the settlers and their allies in the coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump's special representative for international negotiations, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

The Israeli prime minister has also been actively trying to avoid friction on other fronts related to settlements, pushing to postpone a Knesset committee vote next week on a bill that calls to annex the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

On Thursday, Greenblatt sat down for an unprecedented session with a delegation from the settler umbrella group the Yesha Council, led by Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi and Shomron Regional Council head Yossi Dagan — a meeting that according to Channel 2 was coordinated with Netanyahu.

Ahead of Greenblatt’s trip to Israel, Dagan told Likud ministers that a Netanyahu agreement to rein in settlement construction, or to a partial freeze of settlements, would lead to political crisis, Channel 2 reported, adding that the settler movement has argued that the freeze imposed by the administration of former president Barack Obama constituted “a breach of their human rights.”

A statement from the Yesha Council following the meeting with Greenblatt described it as “fruitful and positive,” and added that the council “looks forward to continuing this important dialogue.”

Channel 10 reported that officials who have met with Greenblatt over the past several days came away with a sense that the administration is determined to make progress on a regional peace accord, with talk of convening a possible regional conference in the coming months, and that White House efforts to get Israel to rein in settlements would come into play then.

Netanyahu said earlier Thursday that Israel was “in the middle of a process of dialogue with the White House and it is our intention to get to an agreed-upon policy on construction in the settlements.”

He noted that it was preferable to reach such understandings quickly rather than engaging in drawn-out negotiations.

Many on the Israeli right had anticipated that Trump would be more supportive of the settlement enterprise than his predecessor Barack Obama. However, last month, at a joint White House press conference with Netanyahu, Trump asked the prime minister to “hold back on settlements a little bit.” He also said in a newspaper interview that Israeli settlements “don’t help” in negotiating a peace agreement.

Pentagon chief says he opposed cutting Manning’s prison term

WASHINGTON (AP) — US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday he had opposed commuting the prison sentence of convicted leaker Chelsea Manning, who was convicted in 2013 of espionage and other crimes for leaking classified information while deployed in Iraq.

“That was not my recommendation,” Carter said in an Associated Press interview. “I recommended against that, but the president has made his decision.”

Carter declined to elaborate on his view.

President Barack Obama has drawn intense criticism from members of Congress and others for his decision Tuesday to commute Manning’s 35-year prison sentence to about seven years, including the time she spent locked up before she was convicted. Her sentence is now set to expire May 17.

At the time Manning committed the crimes she was known as Bradley Manning and was serving as an Army private.

Chelsea Manning poses for a photo wearing a wig and lipstick. (US Army)

Chelsea Manning poses for a photo wearing a wig and lipstick. (US Army)

A judge convicted Manning of 20 counts, including six Espionage Act violations, theft and computer fraud. She was sentenced to 35 years out of a possible maximum of 90. She was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, which carries a possible life sentence.

The now 29-year-old native of Crescent, Oklahoma, leaked more than 700,000 classified Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and diplomatic cables in 2010 while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad. Manning also leaked a 2007 video clip of a US helicopter crew killing at least nine men, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. The Pentagon later concluded the helicopter crew acted appropriately, having mistaken the camera equipment for weapons.

At a White House news conference Wednesday, Obama firmly defended his Manning decision, arguing she had served a “tough prison sentence” already.

The White House declined to comment on Carter’s remarks but pointed to Obama’s explanation about why he’d granted the commutation.

Obama said his decision took into account the fact that Manning had gone to trial, taken responsibility for her crime and received a sentence that he said was harsher than other leakers had received. He emphasized that he had commuted her sentence, not granted a pardon, which would have symbolically forgiven her for the crime.

US President Barack Obama speaks during his final press conference at the White House January 18, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

US President Barack Obama speaks during his final press conference at the White House January 18, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

“I feel very comfortable that justice has been served,” Obama said, adding, “A message has still been sent that when it comes to our national security, that wherever possible we need folks who may have legitimate concerns about the actions of government or their superiors or the agencies in which they work, that they try to work through the established channels and avail themselves of the whistleblower protections that have been put in place.”

The president said he does not accept the argument of critics that the commutation sends the wrong message to others in the military.

“The notion that the average person who was thinking about disclosing vital, classified information would think that it goes unpunished, I don’t think would get that impression from the sentence that Chelsea Manning has served,” Obama said.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence said Obama’s decision on Manning was a mistake and called the convicted leaker a “traitor.”

Pence said in an interview airing Wednesday night with Fox News’ Brett Baier that Manning’s actions compromised national security, endangered American personnel and compromised individuals in Afghanistan who were cooperating with US forces.

One name missing from the list of pardons and commutations the White House announced Tuesday is US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The former prisoner of war is accused of endangering comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009, and has asked Obama for a pardon. He was captured by the Taliban and held prisoner for five years.

In this image taken from video, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan, just before his release into the custody of US special forces, May 31, 2014. (photo credit: Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video)

In this image taken from video, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan, just before his release into the custody of US special forces, May 31, 2014. (photo credit: Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video)

A pardon would allow Bergdahl to avert a military trial scheduled for April. He faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The misbehavior charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Asked about the Bergdahl case, Carter told the AP: “That one hasn’t come to me yet in any way. It’s a law enforcement matter, so I really can’t comment on it.”

For Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff, being Jewish was a family secret

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Hamilton Jordan, President Jimmy Carter’s wunderkind adviser and chief of staff, discovered at age 20 that his family’s story wasn’t a straightforward Christian Southern experience. At the cemetery service for his maternal grandmother, Helen, Jordan was puzzled to discover her plot was nestled alongside that of a Jewish family. They weren’t strangers; they were his ancestors.

A bit of digging revealed that his beloved grandmother was herself Jewish. She had married his Baptist grandfather in the years immediately preceding the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank — a Jewish man who was framed for a murder he did not commit — in a South that viewed Jews as unacceptably different. His own mother would never speak of her Jewish roots.

Jordan died in 2008. That we know this story is thanks to his daughter Kathleen, now 27. A Comedy Central and Hollywood scriptwriter, Kathleen took on the task of editing the unfinished 300-page manuscript her father had left behind. It was a labor of love, a way to process her grief and an exercise in embracing her own Southern identity.

Kathleen Jordan sat down recently with Sarah Wildman at a Washington, D.C., coffee shop for a wide-ranging conversation about the family secret at the heart of the recently published memoir “A Boy from Georgia: Coming of Age in the Segregated South.”

JTA: The book seems to be very much about the evolution of American thinking about race and ethnicity.

Kathleen Jordan, who edited her father's posthumous memoir, "A Boy From Georgia." (Courtesy of Kathleen Jordan)

Jordan: It’s largely tracking his moral journey in the context of race. I think a linchpin moment in the book and in his own life [was] realizing that he was the victim of persecution at age 20. Standing at that gravesite and realizing that his family was Jewish and that was a secret — and it was a secret for a reason.

Did he have an inkling? After he sees the gravesite, did he ask family members?

He asks his mother about this three times. First she says, ‘Later. It’s too much.’ [Eventually she says] ‘Hamilton, I’ll never talk of this.’

Before my dad died and when he was working on the book, it blew our minds that he wasn’t going to ask his uncle about it. It was 2006 or 2007, and we said, ‘Are you kidding? You have the chance to hear his stories and feelings of persecution he experienced — or even marginalization.’ It seemed a very quiet kind of thing. A social thing.

Did learning he was Jewish inform the way your father thought about the world?

Absolutely. He spent the rest of his life trying to connect with the Jewish community. He was baptized Baptist. We grew up Episcopalian. But culturally he was drawn to it. And it had an impact on his relationship to the civil rights movement; I think it made it personal for him. It made civil rights even more personal. There are two watershed moments for him: seeing his maid marching with [Martin Luther King Jr.] in downtown Albany [Georgia] and thinking ‘what am I doing?’ and realizing that everyone he loves and respects was a segregationist.

Why did you decide to pick up the book and edit it?

This book is about his childhood and the moral and intellectual journey to the right side of the fence, and because of that it took a long time for him to articulate. He had been writing and telling these stories for a long time. We knew how important it was to him. When he died it was 85 percent finished. We didn’t add. I drew some conclusions. I did polishing. Edited it. Made it into a narrative. He had had words on paper for maybe six or eight years.

Did you see this as a legacy project?

I think that this book started as an oral history, and he wanted his stories to live on and he was always aware that he could die of cancer. The book explains how he got to be a politician and how he came to formulate opinions. But when I took it on, it was partially a choice of grief. We were sad. My brother worked on it for six months and did research interviews. It’s a family affair.

The book is detailed about his childhood — and a bit less about his time serving in the White House. Did you have a consciousness about that era as a kid? Did you speak about, say, Camp David, the historic summit where President Carter managed to wrest a peace treaty out of the Israelis and the Egyptians?

Camp David was one of the most successful Middle East treaties to this day. It was something he was really proud of.

My dad’s story in a lot of ways is President Carter’s story — the slow opening of his eyes to human rights. It drew them together throughout their relationship. They had this common background of growing up where segregation is passed generation to generation, and it falls into your lap and you realize you have a choice … and that is a thread. And that empathy and human rights thread tied them together into a common mission.

Tell me about the cover art. It’s a Confederate flag and your dad as a boy. It’s a jarring image.

People often ask if it was a tough decision, especially after the [deadly shootings at a black church] in South Carolina. We discussed it. It is the perfect symbol for his journey. He is standing there blissfully unaware of the symbol, and he has no sense of its meaning. I think that slowly through the book he begins to understand that it is symbolically his choice to hold the flag.

READ: President Carter’s Al Het

How did working on the book change your own Southern identity?

I had a lot of shame associated with being from the South. But in working on this book, I have realized that not claiming your past is kind of a form of erasure. It is denying the bad and burying the good. And he didn’t run from it.

It was politically important for my dad, and being from the South was one of the main points of his identity. Now I would say it’s the same for me.

And I’ve been able to rediscover a lot in working on this book and being able to interact with some of his peers in Albany, Georgia, and Atlanta. Prejudice and race happen in the South — it is more so on the tips of our tongues. Living in New York and L.A., in my experience, I have not had as many interesting conversations on race because people aren’t as up to talk about it. But the South is anything but color blind, and it’s something I really value.