WASHINGTON — White House chief of staff John Kelly called Sen. Elizabeth Warren an “impolite arrogant woman” in a private email he exchanged last year with his top aide following a telephone conversation with the Massachusetts Democrat about the Trump administration’s travel ban.
“Absolutely most insulting conversation I have ever had with anyone,” Kelly, then serving as the secretary of homeland security, wrote to Kevin Carroll, who was then his senior counselor at the Department of Homeland Security, in an email from Feb. 8, 2017. “What an impolite arrogant woman. She immediately began insulting our people accusing them of not following the court order, insulting and abusive behavior towards those covered by the pause, blah blah blah.”
The court order Kelly had referred to was a temporary restraining order issued by federal judges in Massachusetts and New York on Jan. 28 and 29, 2017, which blocked the implementation of President Donald Trump’s executive order that sought to ban citizens from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the US in response to an ACLU lawsuit.
Kelly’s email, along with thousands of others he sent and received, was obtained by BuzzFeed News from the Department of Homeland Security in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Warren called Trump’s travel ban illegal during a protest she attended soon after Trump issued the executive order at Logan International Airport in Boston, where a number of people were detained. A congressional source familiar with Warren’s phone call with Kelly told BuzzFeed News that the senator’s staff first tried to obtain information from the Department of Homeland Security on Jan. 29, 2017 about her constituents who were stuck abroad and prohibited from boarding airplanes to fly into Logan. But the staffers were unsuccessful. Warren then reached out to Kelly, who didn’t respond to her for a week. When Kelly finally called Warren, she told him she had been trying to reach him, which Kelly denied. Warren described her staff’s numerous email exchanges with Kelly and their conversation then became heated.
A spokesperson for Warren declined to comment on Kelly’s characterizations of the senator. The White House did not return calls or emails left for Kelly.
Carroll responded to his boss’s criticisms of Warren in an email the same day.
“Too bad Senate Majority Leader McConnell couldn’t order her to be quiet again! Warren is running for president so early, trying too hard, and chasing bad pitches,” Carroll wrote.
During a lengthy, impassioned speech on the Senate floor on Feb. 7, 2017, a day before Kelly emailed Carroll about his call with Warren, the senator spoke out against Jeff Sessions, whom Trump had nominated as attorney general. Warren was set to read a scathing 1986 letter written by Coretta Scott King who had opposed Sessions’ nomination to a federal judgeship over claims he “used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.”
But McConnell intervened and silenced Warren. He invoked the rarely used Rule XIX, which says, “No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” He argued that Warren had broken the rules and on the floor that “she was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
McConnell’s comment is now a hallmark of Warren’s speeches and campaign merchandise.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke on the Senate floor on Feb. 7, 2017, to rebuke then-senator Jeff Sessions. An earlier version of this post misstated the date.
Jason Leopold is a senior investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He is a 2018 Pulitzer finalist for international reporting, recipient of the IRE 2016 FOI award and a 2016 Newseum Institute National Freedom of Information Hall of Fame inductee.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.