In response to the media attacks against President Donald Trump provoked by Rep. Frederica Wilson’s (D-FL), description of a phone conversation held between the President and the widow of a US Green Beret killed in Niger, Chief of Staff John Kelly made a rare appearance before the press on Thursday.
Kelly spoke to a crowd of reporters at the White House to directly tackle Wilson’s remarks, saying he was “stunned” that the Congresswoman used the President’s call to a grieving widow for political purposes. In addition to calling for the deaths of servicemen to be respected as “sacred,” Kelly recounted an event at which Wilson used the killings of FBI agents for political gain.
Kelly, a retired Marine Corps. General who lost a son in Afghanistan, took issue with Wilson listening in on what was intended to be a private conversation between President Trump and Myeshia Johnson, the widow of US Special Forces Sgt. La David Johnson of Miami Gardens, Florida.
Kelly first explained the context behind President Trump’s remarks to Mrs. Johnson. Congresswoman Wilson has sparked controversy by saying that the President offensively dismissed the Gold Star Family’s feelings by saying “he knew what he was signing up for.”
As reported by The New York Times, the Chief of Staff, who himself is a Gold Star father, said the President asked him for advice on speaking to the grieving families of American service members. Kelly explained that his counsel was echoed in the conversation President Trump had with Mrs. Johnson.
“Well, let me tell you what I told [President Trump]. Let me tell you what my best friend, Joe Dunford, told me — because he was my casualty officer [when Kelly’s son, Robert, was killed],” Kelly said.
He continued, “He said, Kel, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war. And when he died, in the four cases we’re talking about, Niger, and my son’s case in Afghanistan — when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this Earth: his friends.”
Chief of Staff Kelly went on to rebuke Congresswoman Wilson. “I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning, and brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing. A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the President of the United States to a young wife,” he stated.
“That’s what the President tried to say to four families the other day. I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning, and brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing. A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the President of the United States to a young wife, and in his way tried to express that opinion — that he’s a brave man, a fallen hero, he knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted,” Kelly said.
“There’s no reason to enlist; he enlisted. And he was where he wanted to be, exactly where he wanted to be, with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken,” said Kelly, who then described a previous instance of Wilson politicizing the deaths of FBI agents.
Gen. Kelly set the record straight about Congresswoman Wilson. Do you think he’s right?
Kelly wrapped up his statement, stating, “I’ll end with this: In October — April, rather, of 2015, I was still on active duty, and I went to the dedication of the new FBI field office in Miami. And it was dedicated to two men who were killed in a firefight in Miami against drug traffickers in 1986.”
He continued, “And a congresswoman stood up, and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there and all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call he gave the money — the $20 million — to build the building. And she sat down, and we were stunned. Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.”
According to NBC News, Wilson hit back at Kelly, claiming that he lied and that the Chief of Staff’s use of the term “empty barrel” was “racist.”