An argument last February between the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, and Corey Lewandowski, an informal adviser to President Trump, turned into a physical altercation that required Secret Service intervention just outside the Oval Office, according to a half-dozen people familiar with the events.
The episode, details of which have not been previously reported, is the latest illustration of the often chaotic atmosphere Mr. Trump is willing to tolerate in the White House as well as a reflection of the degree to which Mr. Kelly’s temper can be provoked.
The near brawl — during which Mr. Kelly grabbed Mr. Lewandowski by the collar and tried to have him ejected from the West Wing — came at a time when the chief of staff was facing uncertainty about how long Mr. Trump would keep him in his job. A guessing game over his departure has colored his tenure ever since.
Mr. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, was widely hailed as the lone grown-up who could corral a staff full of bombastic and competing personalities when he was appointed in summer 2017. But Mr. Kelly has shown little inclination to curb his own instinct for confrontation, from scuffling with a Chinese official during a visit to Beijing last year to last week’s profanity-laced shouting match with John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, after a meeting with the president.
.. Anthony Scaramucci, who has written a book about being Mr. Trump’s communications director for 11 days until Mr. Kelly fired him after the release of a recording of his own profanity-laced call with a reporter, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that Mr. Kelly had “hurt the morale inside the place.”
“And he’s hurt the president. And he has hissy fits,” Mr. Scaramucci said, adding that “he’s demonstrating his personality now the way he really is.”.. Mr. Kelly criticized Mr. Lewandowski to Mr. Trump for making so much money off the president in the form of his contract with the super PAC supporting the president’s re-election. Mr. Kelly also expressed his anger that Mr. Lewandowski had been criticizing him on television for his handling of the security clearance controversy related to Mr. Porter... The two then began arguing, with Mr. Lewandowski speaking loudly. Mr. Kelly grabbed Mr. Lewandowski by his collar, trying to push him against a wall, according to a person with direct knowledge of the episode.
Mr. Lewandowski did not get physical in response, according to multiple people familiar with the episode. But Secret Service agents were called in.
.. Mr. Kelly, who is called “the general” or “the chief” by his allies inside the West Wing, is widely seen as a diminished presence among the president’s advisers. Though Mr. Kelly has repeatedly said he expresses his honest opinions to Mr. Trump, he has shown little inclination or ability to curb some of the president’s impulses.
.. The president, for his part, has shown a certain reverence for men willing to engage in physical scuffles. Last fall, when Mr. Kelly was newly in his role, his willingness to engage angrily in meetings with Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who at the time was the national security adviser, thrilled Mr. Trump. The president, who did not like General McMaster, gleefully told people about the skirmishes between the two men for weeks, saying it showed how tough Mr. Kelly was, a person familiar with the discussions said.
.. And The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Mr. Kelly got into a physical altercation with a Chinese official trying to gain access the so-called nuclear football
.. “I think Trump has decided it’s really a bad marriage,” said Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers,” a history of White House chiefs of staff, “that he has decided to muddle through.”