- John Kelly said Trump “doesn’t know any history at all, even some of the basics,” a new book says.
- He made the comment while Trump was meeting with Angela Merkel at the 2018 G20 summit, it adds.
- Fiona Hill writes Merkel explained to Trump why Germany had a stake in US-Russia arms-control talks.
Former President Donald Trump’s chief of staff Gen. John Kelly once complained that Trump “doesn’t know any history at all, even some of the basics on the US.”
That’s according to a new book by Fiona Hill, a former senior director for European and Russian affairs on Trump’s National Security Council.
Hill wrote that Kelly made the comment during the 2018 G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At the time, Trump was meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the two were discussing the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the US and Russia. The summit came shortly after Trump announced in October that year that the US would withdraw from the landmark agreement, saying Russia had violated its terms.
Hill wrote in her memoir, “There Is Nothing For You Here: Finding Opportunity in the Twenty-First Century,” that Trump was initially reluctant to discuss the treaty with Merkel or European officials because it was between the US and Russia. But, Hill writes, Merkel and her team “had cut their political teeth on this issue in their younger days.”
Merkel explained to Trump at the G20 summit that she participated in antinuclear protests in East Germany in the 1980s and that her colleagues in West Germany opposed stationing US missiles in Europe, the book says. The German leader “patiently and even humorously laid out all of this and how the risk of a US-Soviet nuclear war had been the all-encompassing topic of her youth,” Hill writes.
Trump’s conversation with Merkel “was the first time” he had “ever listened to the Europeans’ perspective on the 1980s and heard why US-Russian arms-control negotiations were important to them as well,” the book adds. “It was clear that none of this had ever occurred to him before,” it says.
Hill writes that while Merkel was explaining Europe’s interest in US-Russia relations, Kelly remarked on how little Trump knew about geopolitics.
“He leaned over to me and whispered, ‘The problem is the president doesn’t know any of this,'” Kelly said, according to Hill’s book. “He doesn’t know any history at all, even some of the basics on the US.”
The former president’s lack of knowledge about global issues also irritated other world leaders during phone calls, Hill writes. “Some leaders, like President Erdogan of Turkey, would get angry in meetings or on calls when Trump obviously had no idea what they were talking about.”
Hill also writes Trump’s lack of knowledge and refusal to do his homework was a “major liability” for US national security: “Whenever he got to meetings and the conversation started, it seemed like the first time he was hearing things from world leaders.”
Representatives for Kelly and Trump did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on Hill’s account.
This was not the first time Kelly was reported to have commented on the president’s intelligence and grasp of world events.
NBC News reported in April 2018 that Kelly told White House staffers that Trump was an “idiot” and portrayed himself as the sole person standing between the US and disaster.
Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general who served for four decades, denied the report at the time, calling it “total BS” and adding that he and Trump had “an incredibly candid and strong relationship.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender also says in his book “Frankly, We Did Win This Election” that Kelly decried Trump’s lack of knowledge when Trump told him earlier in 2018 that Adolf Hitler “did a lot of good things.”
The comment prompted a history lesson, Bender writes, in which Kelly told Trump he was wrong and “reminded the president which countries were on which side during the conflict.” He also “connected the dots from the first world war to the second world war and all of Hitler’s atrocities,” the book says, and told Trump, “You cannot ever say anything supportive of Adolf Hitler. You just can’t.”
A spokesperson for Trump denied the Hitler anecdote, telling The Guardian: “This is totally false. President Trump never said this. It is made-up fake news, probably by a general who was incompetent and was fired.”
Trump announced Kelly’s ouster in December 2018, shortly after the G20 summit in Argentina. The US submitted formal notice of its intent to withdraw from the INF Treaty in February 2019, and the country officially withdrew in August 2019.