tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations Bloomberg June 23, 2019 10:00am-10:31am EDT
david: was it the hardest job you ever had? gen. kelly: it was very hard but very meaningful. not very enjoyable. david: your family was a blue-collar family. gen. kelly: very blue-collar. my dad was a world war ii vet. david: you were in combat. did you expect that you would survive? gen. kelly: it's a lot of shooting and bombs and whatnot. we are marines. david: did you ever say to the president that maybe the tweets are too much? gen. kelly: never did. the president feels very strongly that his tweeting goes around the press. >> will you fix your tie please? david: people wouldn't recognize me if my tie was fixed, but ok. let's leave it this way. ♪
david: i don't consider myself a journalist. nobody else would consider myself a journalist. i began to take on the life of being an interviewer even though i have a day job of running a private equity firm. how do you define leadership? what is it that makes somebody tick? let's talk about what it was like to be chief of staff to president trump. was it all that you thought it would be in terms of the difficulty? more difficult than you thought? are you pleased you did the job? gen. kelly: it was amongst the hardest jobs i ever had in my life. it was the most important thing i ever did. for 18 months, i staffed the president the way i thought a president should be staffed. presenting him options, getting experts with him to talk.
that's what chief of staff does. that was vitally important. for 18 months i was there. we staffed the president very effectively. david: was it the hardest job you ever had? the most memorable job? the most enjoyable? or just another interesting job? gen. kelly: it was very hard but very meaningful. not very enjoyable. you know, staffing the president of the united states, you are trying to bring together the white house staff in the entire federal government to help him make the kind of decisions, economic, social, life and death wartime decisions. david: in washington, people often stab you in the back. sometimes they stab you in the front. that is the job that the chief of staff is said to have. you get criticized by everybody.
do you feel that the criticism by people, for any reason, did you get used to it? gen. kelly: i wasn't used to -- one of the things that struck me right away that i was not used to coming out of the military was the intense personal ambition that people have. if that gets out of hand, which it was a for my time and continued while i was there, people start to do things like leaked to the press, things that are untrue or half true. not just for the people at the top like me. their colleagues. one of the things i did very on when i took over, get all of the staff together. there's a lot of them so i had to do several sessions. i said, nowhere in the oath of office does it say that you should be talking to the press unless that is part of your job and authorized. nowhere does it say you should be stabbing your colleagues in the back.
you serve the nation. if you take the oath seriously, i want you to stay. if you can't, find another place to work. david: when you are in the military and you tell people you do x, y or z, they jump or are in trouble. when you tell people as chief of staff that they should do x, y or z and they don't do it, what can you do about it? gen. kelly: in the military, if you tell someone to do x, y or z, we expect people to question orders. push back. i can't, as a commander, know everything. in the white house, you can fire people. i had to fire a few people. very few. they were very disrupted. a vast majority of the people who work there are good people. they just need direction. david: when donald trump was elected, you were already retired from the military.
gen. kelly: i retired from the military eight months at that point, never wanting to work again. david: did you know donald trump before? gen. kelly: not in any way. david: you met him in the transition? gen. kelly: i received a phone call in late november on a saturday. they asked me if i wouldn't consider coming up to meet with the president-elect. talk to him about going into the administration. my wife after the phone call asked me, what was that all about? i explained to her. what do you think? she said, we are a family of service. go up and talk to them. i went up the next day to talk to the president-elect. reince priebus was there. a couple of other people with it. about 10 days later, he asked me to go to trump tower. he offered me the dhs job.
david: did you say you accepted right on the spot? gen. kelly: up to that point in time, my lifestyle was service to the nation. obviously, i had to get out of the marine corps. i was getting too old. the opportunity to serve was something i looked forward to. dhs was a great job. they are phenomenal patriots. they are unsung heroes. david: you did that job for how long before you became chief of staff? gen. kelly: six months. david: did the president call you a few times? how did you get asked to do that? gen. kelly: it was a couple days before it was announced. during my time at dhs, i didn't go to the white house a lot. most cabinet people are busy. he and i had a previous discussion on a couple of things relative to the staff. he said, i would like you to come on over and be chief of staff. i need your kind of leadership to put this place in the right
direction. david: my wife wouldn't want me to do this? gen. kelly: i really like dhs, they were making a difference. an awful lot of your agenda is wrapped up in dhs. he said, i really need you to do this. the president asked, i did it. david: did men working for you get killed? gen. kelly: yeah. it is part of the lifestyle. it's not easy. there are things that you would be woken up for in the middle of the night. i owe them to be woken up and someone to tell me this young man, young woman died in defense of their country. ♪
david: i would like to talk about the job you did as chief of staff. before that, i want to talk about your background. where are you originally from? gen. kelly: i grew up in boston. david: your family was a blue-collar family? gen. kelly: very. my dad was a world war ii vet. he worked two jobs his whole life. mailman and railroad. greatest man i ever knew. david: you went to high school where?
gen. kelly: st. mary's high school just outside of boston. david: when you graduated, what did you do? gen. kelly: i went to almost a year of college. the war -- i graduated in 1968. the war was on. every man in my life growing up as a boy was either a world war ii vet or a korean war vet. that's all they talked about. we had a draft back then. it was relatively easy to get out of the draft. you had to come in with a doctor's note or go to college. a lot of deferments. when i passed my draft physical, which would've brought me into the army, i went into the marine corps. david: you entered the marine corps. you became a lieutenant? gen. kelly: i became a private. ultimately, i made sergeant. my mother was diagnosed with cancer so i get out of the marine corps, but stayed in a program that continued my training while i was going to college. as soon as i graduated from
college, i get commissioned and went back into the marine corps. david: the highest you can become is a four-star general. you became a four-star general. did you ever expect when you were just beginning that you would be a general? gen. kelly: no. when i was an enlisted marine, i wanted to be an nco. that's corporal. i made sergeant, best rank i ever held. david: you are in the marine corps. as you rise up, one of your assignments is to go into iraq in 2003. you were in combat. did you expect that you would survive? it was really dangerous? gen. kelly: it is dangerous. there's a lot of shooting and bombs and whatnot. we are marines. you take that on as a possibility. when we were designing the campaign plan, one of the things we did was to understand the iraqi army, it was nothing close to us. we designed a strategy that would minimize the amount of damage to the country and the amount of death to the iraqi army. we went there, and in our
mindset, we were not there to conquer them but to liberate them. we didn't want to kill a lot of them. you always try not to kill the innocent. david: you thought it would have been over in one or two weeks and people would be cheering you? gen. kelly: they were cheering us, almost everywhere we went. they came out in huge numbers. the attack part of it was easy. we knew we were going to win. we would get to baghdad in lightning time. what we kept asking in the kuwait desert leading up to the invasion march, who is going to take this over from us? mr. rumsfeld had said, the u.s. military is not going to get involved in nationbuilding. our question was, who will we turn that over to? we should start thinking about that now. the idea that we were going to leave quickly, which the
military did start to do, but not have anyone to turn it over to, that caused us great concerns. david: did men working for you get killed, under you? gen. kelly: oh, yeah. david: what do you do in that situation? do you send a letter to the next of kin? how do you deal with that emotionally? gen. kelly: i mean, it's part of the lifestyle. it's not an easy part. when i was a commander there, when i went back for a subsequent tour, i was the senior marine commander on the ground. there were a lot of things that you would be woken up for in the middle of the night. i only had two of them. a missing american, because then, we had to go to general quarters to find that person. and then, a death. people would say, why did you want to get woken up for a death?
there's nothing you can do. i think i owe the marine to be woken up and for someone to tell me that this young man, this young woman died in the defense of their country. david: let's talk about after you retire. before you joined the trump administration, you were in the business world. what were you doing? gen. kelly: not very much. i started working with the national defense university, part of dod. i just started to get a couple of opportunities to be on boards. i joined those boards. almost as soon as i joined, i was disengaging. i was in the process of going to dhs. david: you are on some corporate boards for the first time. you are making more money than presumably you made in the marine corps. gen. kelly: not huge money but more than the marine corps. david: going back in the government was another cut in salary. your family didn't say anything
about that? gen. kelly: what was interesting going into dhs, i was about $50,000 more than i made a year as a four-star. what i didn't know that my wife said to me after a couple of weeks at being at the white house, i think our pay is wrong. the paycheck is smaller, i didn't realize they took a major pay cut to be chief of staff. david: you didn't ask? gen. kelly: money isn't relevant. david: let's talk about your family for a moment. when you are a four-star, you are traveling all over the place. your wife gets to travel with you on some of your assignments. how many different places did you have to move as a general? gen. kelly: my wife would love that question. when i was in miami, my wife went to guantanamo bay for three years so we could have thanksgiving dinner with the troops down there. i took her to haiti, i took her to honduras months. maybe twice. maybe honduras and guatemala. once to peru.
david: paris or london? gen. kelly: none of that. david: you have three children. you fathered three children. your oldest son is in the military still. gen. kelly: a lieutenant colonel in the marine corps. recently promoted. just back from his -- one of his tours in iraq. david: you have a daughter. what is she doing? gen. kelly: she was with the fbi. prior to that, she worked with the wounded men and women coming back from the wars. bethesda naval hospital. and then, she went into the fbi. she was with the hostage rescue team. she was one of the support people for several years. david: you had another son who lost his life in military
combat. gen. kelly: he started off as an enlisted marine. he became a second lieutenant and was killed in afghanistan. david: did you and your wife say, having two sons in the marine was an awful sacrifice for any family? gen. kelly: it's our way of life. it may sound strange, but it's a way of life. they make their own decisions. david: what would you say is the best training to be chief of staff of the white house, particularly with president trump? gen. kelly: you have to tell the boss the truth. when you don't think he's going down the right road, not in front of a bunch of people, tell him that. truth to power. someone in the room has got to say, at the beginning of every conversation and at the end, is this good for america? ♪
david: let's go forward now to chief of staff. you are the chief of staff, sounds like a good title. you can call any cabinet secretary and tell them what to do. is that the way it works? gen. kelly: i would suggest. they are cabinet members. the president puts out -- whether it's tweets or his time with the press. he does a lot of discussion with the press. he puts out his feelings on different things. more often than not, i would get calls from cabinet people saying, i heard him say this. is that a change, should we react? the president is never hesitant to pick up the phone and talk to his own cabinet members. david: did you say to the president, maybe the tweets are too much to keep up with? maybe you should not tweet as
much? gen. kelly: never did. the president feels very strongly that he is not dealt with by the press fairly and that his tweeting goes around the press and gets his agenda, his word out to the world without having to rely on a press conference. david: let's talk about a few issues. when you were at the department of homeland security, there was the issue of immigration, the ban on immigration. were you alerted to that when you were there? how do you think that is now working out? gen. kelly: three days after i became the dhs secretary, the e.o. came out on the travel ban. as a sidebar, i would say, the seven countries involved in the president's thinking were all dysfunctional. everyone knows iran is a hotbed of terrorism. the other countries were
dysfunctional. the entire population -- muslim population of those countries added up to 11% of the world's population. those countries, they don't have a process that we could bless and say, the people that they say are coming out of those countries to come to the united states for whatever reason, there's no way to tell who they are because these countries are in a state of collapse. it could've been done better. back to the staff process. if the staff process had been when i was there, the idea that the president might want to do that -- he has strong feelings on immigration, we all know that -- we would have run that through a process. at least had a better release plan. david: when you were at the white house, you had the wall issue. the president wanted to build a wall. you were quoted a few times as saying it doesn't have to be a concrete wall. was there a difference between
you and the president on that? do you think the wall is a good policy? gen. kelly: i went to the experts, customs and border protection people that man the watchtower. do we need a wall? they said, we need more. we have, back in 2006, the congress authorized over 650 miles of wall. senators clinton, schumer, and obama voted for it. that was in 2006. 650 miles. what the cbp people were telling me was, we want to improve that barrier. if you tell me i can get 300 more miles, i could tell you exactly where to put it. they also said that we want to be able to see through the wall. we want to be able to track what is going on on the other side. just as importantly, we want the
people that are contemplating jumping the wall to see us. if they see us, they don't do it. david: he had a meeting twice. he met twice with the leader of north korea. did you think that was a good idea? do you think the policy of meeting usually works or you should always have advance preparation? gen. kelly: there's a lot of advanced preparation. a lot of letters back and forth. people in other places have their contacts there. i will applaud the president in that he looked back on the last 70 years of trying to deal with the north korean leadership and none of that was working. he's the kind of guy that wanted to try it personally. pick the phone up and talk to the guy. or i want to meet with him, tried to develop a relationship.
that is who he is. many times, all the other stuff has not worked for 70 years. what the heck, let's give it a try. david: some people would say the president was reluctant to criticize vladimir putin for anything. he seemed overly friendly. is that a fair comment? why do you think it was? gen. kelly: the explanation is much like with kim. things have not been working very well over the last eight, 10, 35 years. he is a pick the phone up and talk to the guy kind of guy. david: was it complicated to have the president's family in the government at the time? gen. kelly: they are an influence that has to be dealt with. david: today -- gen. kelly: i do not mean mrs. trump. the first lady is a wonderful person. david: if you had to advise
somebody who was going to be chief of staff in the future, what is the best training? particularly with president trump. gen. kelly: you have to tell the boss the truth. when you don't think he's going down the right road, not in front of a bunch of people, tell him that. truth to power. someone in the room has got to say, at the beginning of every conversation and at the end, is this good for america? david: when you tell the president, i think you should do something different, did he yell? gen. kelly: no, we would have a conversation about it. more often than not, let's bring them back in. david: if you had to do it all over again, would you have taken the job of chief of staff? are you glad that you took that job? gen. kelly: i was drafted into the job. david: knowing everything you now know. gen. kelly: as hard as it was, i feel very strongly, i don't know what has happened since. for 18 months, president donald
trump on every issue was well staffed, well-informed. we gave him options. i will just leave it at that. david: as you look back on your career, what are you most proud of having achieved? did your parents live to see you become a general? gen. kelly: my dad did. i would say for over 40 years, i served the nation in peace and war. it goes without saying, i am most proud of my family and kids. for over 45 years, serving the nation in peace and war, honorably with integrity. david: have you considered yourself retired or will you be active in the business world? gen. kelly: i don't know how to retire. no idea what i'm going to do. david: would you consider the highest calling of mankind private equity? not sure about that?
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