UPDATE: Following controversial comments from John Kelly on Thursday, Rep. Frederica Wilson has responded, saying that the White House Chief of Staff lied about key facts involving the Congresswoman’s record.
Wilson, a Democrat from Florida, specifically said that Kelly "needs to stop telling lies on me.”
One of those lies asserted by Kelly, explained Wilson, was that she took full credit for securing the funds for an FBI building in Miramar, Florida. “And we were stunned — stunned that she'd done it," Kelly said. "Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned."
“I was not even in Congress in 2009 when the money for the building was secured,” Wilson said. She also said that the use of the term “empty barrel” was racist.
Video from the speech Kelly alludes to in 2015 confirms Wilson’s account that she didn’t take credit for the funds to pay for the building. She did, however, help name the building, an effort which she describes as being bipartisan.
“I named the building at the behest of [former FBI Director James Comey] with the help of [Speaker John Boehner], working across party lines. So he didn't tell the truth,” Wilson said of Kelly.
Chief of Staff Kelly’s comments on Thursday also seem to contradict assertions made by President Donald Trump, who tweeted out that Rep. Wilson had lied about saying that he had told a grieving widow that her husband, killed in action in Niger, “knew what he signed up for.”
Kelly seemed acknowledge that Trump said those words, but criticized the representative for listening in on the conversation between Trump and Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Green Beret La David Johnson.
However, Wilson was an invited participant by the Johnson family, having helped La David Johnson through a mentorship program and being a former principal at the school his father attended.
Wilson recognized that Kelly himself has lost a son who served in the military. “I feel sorry for General Kelly,” Wilson said. “He has my sympathy for the loss of his son. But he can’t just go on TV and lie on me.”
Wilson is right in her assessment — Kelly is using false claims about her record in order to take the heat off of Trump for his rude comments to a military widow. Sympathy can be given to Kelly for his own personal loss, but his enduring legacy may now be that of attacking a grieving family and a member of Congress who simply told it like it is.
After Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) disparaged President Donald Trump’s phone call to the wife of a fallen soldier, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made a surprising defense of the president.
Myeshia Johnson, wife of Green Beret La David Johnson — one of the soldiers killed during an ambush in Niger — received a call from Trump two weeks after her husband’s death, in which he reportedly told her how Johnson “knew what he signed up for.”
Wilson, who was seated next to the grieving widow at the time, immediately went public with the president’s insensitive comments.
Trump responded to the allegations with a tweet:
The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson(D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 20, 2017
However, Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, also doubled down on Wilson’s remarks claiming, “President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.”
A day later, Kelly delivered a surprising defense of Trump’s phone call during a White House briefing, in which he suggested Wilson was a publicity-seeking opportunist.
Despite the fact that Trump called Wilson’s accusations a lie, Kelly said, “[The president] in his way tried to express that opinion that he’s [Sgt. Johnson] a brave man, fallen hero. He knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted. 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. That was the message. That was the message that was transmitted.”
Kelly apparently did not realize that by these words, he admitted that Trump had actually addressed the widow in such unfeeling words and then lied about not doing so in his tweet.
“It stuns me,” he added later on during the briefing. “I thought at least that was sacred.”
Wilson being present for one of her constituent’s difficult times hardly makes her listening in to the call not “sacred.” Kelly would have felt less stunned if he knew that Wilson was much more than a “member of the Congress” to the Johnson family. She was also the fallen soldier’s teacher.
The Democrat started the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, a mentoring project for youth pursuing military careers, which Johnson and his brothers attended. One even got a full scholarship to Bethune Cookman College and the other is training to become a firefighter. Wilson was also the principal of the school that Johnson’s father attended, making her relationship to the family decades old.
That was the reason she was with the family to begin with.
For some people, family is a broader concept than just close blood relations. Kelly has the complete right to talk about grieving a loved one since he himself is a Gold Star father. He just shouldn’t assume to know who is privy to the Johnson family’s most sacred moments.
Kelly, a retired Marine general, saw his son Second Lt. Robert Kelly killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010 and the chief of staff gave an excruciating description of what happens to the bodies of those killed in combat and how the heartbroken families are notified of their loved one’s demise.
Despite knowing the pains of losing a son to war, Kelly himself admitted he was the one who advised Trump not to directly call family members of fallen soldier, because there is “no perfect way” to do that.
Kelly is right in claiming that a simple phone call cannot ease the grief of a military family. However, to a lot of military families, the acknowledgment that their loved one’s sacrifice was appreciated by the president matters a lot — and many military families who have not heard from the Trump administration at all are still waiting for that call.
Kelly also said presidents do not generally directly call all family members of slain soldiers, especially when the number of casualties of war is very high. This makes sense, except for the fact this (thankfully) is not the case currently.
He also doubled down on Trump’s statement that former President Barack Obama did not call him when his son was killed. He failed to mention the fact that White House visitor records showed Kelly attended a breakfast hosted for Gold Star families and sat at Michelle Obama’s table.
Obama’s spokesperson Ned Price reacted angrily to this:
“Kelly, a man of honor & decency, should stop this inane cruelty,” Price tweeted. “He saw up-close just how – & how much – Obama cared for the fallen’s families.”
Kelly, a man of honor & decency, should stop this inane cruelty. He saw up-close just how—& how much—Obama cared for the fallen’s families. https://t.co/5NPTKHsd1Z— Ned Price (@nedprice) October 17, 2017
“When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country,” Kelly added aside from his tirade on Wilson. “Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life, the dignity of life, is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well. Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer.”
These comments are at odds with who Kelly is currently serving. Trump has a huge list of sexual assault allegations that rival those of disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. If the chief of staff is reminiscing about an era where “woman were sacred, looked upon with great honor,” he should first counsel his own boss on how to treat women.
John Kelly also talked about how women are "sacred" while defending the man who did this ?? pic.twitter.com/eyu3UmOJ04— Zelda (@ZeldaLackner) October 20, 2017
As for the Gold Star families, Kelly did not name any names, but the family that stood out during the Democratic National Convention in 2016 was that of Muslim-American soldier Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004.
The parents of the deceased soldier, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, criticized Trump’s stance on immigrants and Muslims, which brought them the ire of Trump, who insulted the couple by stating Ghazala Khan (who was too upset to say anything) was so quiet because “she was not allowed to speak.”
However, it doesn’t seem like Kelly was berating Trump when he said, “Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer.” It seems he was targeting the Khan family just as his boss once did.
John Kelly lamenting days when women were held sacred while launching an attack on an outspoken congresswoman really sums the whole thing up— Lauren Duca (@laurenduca) October 19, 2017
I respect John Kelly. He's a greater and braver man than I'll ever be. But that doesn't mean I have to like what he did today.— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) October 20, 2017
Kelly may serve Trump but that does not mean he has to vilify members of Congress, Gold Star families and former presidents to prove his loyalty.
John Kelly is a revered Army general and is respected by both Republicans and Democrats. But that does not make what he did this day right or OK.
Banner/Thumbnail Credit: REUTERS, Kevin Lamarque