- White House chief of staff John Kelly blasted Rep. Frederica Wilson, the congresswoman who told the press about President Donald Trump’s call with a Gold Star widow.
- Kelly called Wilson an “empty barrel.”
- His rebuke of Wilson comes amid a days-long controversy that started when Trump said former President Barack Obama did not call the families of fallen soldiers.
White House chief of staff John Kelly blasted Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida for telling the press about the details of President Donald Trump’s call with a Gold Star widow.
Kelly appeared at the White House press briefing Thursday and called Wilson an “empty barrel” whose “selfish behavior” stunned him, adding that the message Trump was sending to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was among four servicemembers killed in Niger earlier this month, was that he was where he wanted to be when he life was taken from him.
“That was the message,” Kelly said. “That was the message that was transmitted. It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in to that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred.”
“You know, when I was growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country,” he continued. “Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we’ve seen with recent cases. Life, the dignity of life was sacred, that’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well. Gold Star families, I think that left over the convention over the summer. But I just thought that selfless devotion that brings a man or a woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that was sacred.”
Kelly, whose son Robert was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, said that when he listened “to this woman” and “what she was saying and doing on TV,” he went to Arlington National Cemetery to collect his thoughts.
He then told a story of the congresswoman from the dedication of the FBI’s Miami field office in 2015, which he and Wilson attended. The office was named after two FBI agents who were killed in the 1980s during a shootout, and Kelly said then-FBI Director James Comey gave a powerful speech about the men and fellow agents. After Comey’s speech, he said, he was stunned to see Wilson stand up and speak “about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building” and “how she took care of her constituents.”
“We were stunned, even for someone that is that empty a barrel,” Kelly said, adding that “none of us went to the press to criticize.”
Kelly’s stunning rebuke of Wilson came amid a days-long feud between the congresswoman and Trump over his phone call to Myeshia Johnson, Sgt. Johnson’s widow.
Wilson told the Miami ABC affiliate WPLG on Tuesday that Trump had told Myeshia that her husband “knew what he signed up for, but when it happens, it hurts anyway.”
“So insensitive,” Wilson told WPLG. “He should not have said that — he shouldn’t have said it.”
Wilson, who mentored the fallen soldier when he was younger, said she was riding in the car with Myeshia, who was on her way to the airport to receive her husband’s body, when Trump called. The phone was on speaker.
Wilson then told MSNBC on Wednesday morning that the soldier’s widow was “crying the whole time” and that when she hung up the phone, Myeshia looked at Wilson and said, “He didn’t even remember his name.”
She added that Trump “was almost like joking” and that his comment was “absolutely crazy, unnecessary.”
That led Trump to say he had proof Wilson “fabricated” her account of a call that he’d made to Myeshia.
Speaking to the press during a White House meeting with the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, Trump again pushed back on Wilson’s account of what he said, which Kelly seemed to confirm Thursday.
“Didn’t say it at all,” he said. “She knows it. And she now is not saying it. I did not say what she said and I’d like her to make the statement again because I did not say what she said. I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife, who sounded like a lovely woman. Did not say what the congresswoman said, and most people aren’t too surprised to hear that.”
The back-and-forth is the product of an episode from earlier this week, when a reporter asked Trump at a Monday press conference why he had not publicly mentioned the soldiers killed in the Niger ambush. Trump asserted that President Barack Obama did not call the families of slain service members — a false claim that was met with scorn from former Obama administration aides. Trump backed off the claim slightly when pressed further by reporters.
After the initial backlash to his comments, Trump told Fox News Radio host Brian Kilmeade to ask Kelly whether Obama called him when his son Robert was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. Kelly said Thursday that Obama did not call him, but that point was not one of criticism.