Former White House chief of staff John Kelly dismissed calls for a full border wall along the US-Mexico border, telling an audience at Duke University, "we don't need a wall from sea to shining sea."
"There's no way, in my view as a (Department of Homeland Security) secretary -- and I said this in all of my hearings -- we don't need a wall from sea to shining sea, as I said," Kelly said Wednesday night during a rare public appearance since his departure from the administration in January.
"The CBP, Customs and Border Protection people, who are so familiar with the border, they can tell you, you know, if you say, 'I can get you 40 miles,' they'll tell you exactly where they want it. 'I can get you 140 miles,' they can tell you exactly where they want it. If I told them I can get you 2,000 miles, they'd say 'Eh, seems like an awful waste of money,'" he continued.
Kelly, who participated in a Q&A with Duke Professor of Political Science and Public Policy Peter Feaver as part of the University's Phillips Family International Lecture series, cited a physical barrier as necessary to combat the opioid crisis in America but said any border wall would be just "a piece of the, I used to say, of the border security system."
Kelly, who was President Donald Trump's first Department of Homeland Security secretary, also expressed skepticism that Trump's emergency declaration regarding the southern border would make it through Congress, telling Feaver, "I think the whole national emergency thing right now is going to be wrapped up in the courts, if it even gets through Congress, and it doesn't look like it's going to get through Congress."
Kelly has previously downplayed the need for a border wall on the full southern border, telling a Senate panel in April 2017, "It is unlikely that we will build a wall, a physical barrier, from sea to shining sea" and that "physical barriers work."
Kelly also took a question from the audience on the administration's decision to separate families at the border, largely attributing the policy to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "The decision to separate families was a decision made by the Attorney General. It was his decision to make and it kind of surprised us," Kelly told the audience, adding family separation was "a purposeful response to circumventing the laws."
Kelly was also asked about reports from CNN and The New York Times that Trump pushed for security clearance for his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, over the objections of White House staff, including Kelly himself.
"I couldn't, and I'm not dodging, I couldn't comment on that for a couple reasons," Kelly told the audience. "One, someone's security clearance is something that I can't talk about or reveal. And two, conversations with the President at that level certainly would be covered by privilege."
Reflecting on his tenure as White House chief of staff, Kelly seemed relieved to be out of the administration. "It was an incredibly hard job," he said before adding, "it was the most important job I've ever done."
Asked about the one piece of advice he had for his successor, Mick Mulvaney, Kelly joked, "Run for it."