Yesterday, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly gave an emotional plea from the briefing room podium, saying he was "stunned" and "brokenhearted" at Democratic Representative Frederica Wilson’s criticism of what was supposed to be a private call between Trump and a killed military servicemember’s family.
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, he tried to express that opinion that he was a brave man, a fallen hero. He knew what he was getting himself into because 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. It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me.
The retired US Marine Corp General then launched into a fierce criticism of Rep. Wilson, labeling her “an empty barrel” for allegedly taking credit for raising funding for a new FBI field office during a 2015 ceremony dedicating the new building – located in Miramar, Florida – to two FBI agents who were killed during a gunfight with drug traffickers.
There were family members there," Kelly, who attended the ceremony in his capacity as Marine Corps general and head of US Southern Command, said Thursday. "Some of the children that were there were only 3 or 4 years old when their dads were killed on that street in Miami-Dade. Three of the men that survived the fight were there and gave a rendition of how brave those men were and how they gave their lives.
And a congresswoman stood up, and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in 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 (Barack) Obama, and on that phone call, he gave the money, the $20 million, to build the building, and she sat down. We were stunned...
Wilson, who recounted Trump’s purportedly insensitive remarks – allegedly made during a conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson that Wilson was inexplicably present for – during interviews with the Washington Post and CNN, has fired back, accusing Kelly of giving an inaccurate account of a building dedication in an interview with the Miami Herald.
She added that the back and forth with the White House over the growing gold-star family controversy (several other families have come forward to complain about Trump’s condolence calls, with one father saying Trump promised to send him $25,000, but never followed through) has become “totally personal."
Thursday night, Wilson said Kelly got the story flat-out wrong. In fact, she said Washington approved the money before she was even in Congress. The legislation she sponsored named the building after Grogan and Dove, a law enacted just days before the ceremony.
“He shouldn't be able to just say that, that is terrible,” Wilson said of Kelly’s remarks in the White House briefing room, the latest volley in the controversy over Trump’s condolence call to a military widow from Miami Gardens, an area Wilson represents. “This has become totally personal.”
She rejected Kelly’s characterization of her remarks, claiming she has staff – speech writers and such – who write her speeches for her. She also claimed the funding for the building had been secured long before she got to Congress.
“That is crazy that I got [the money] and Mr. Obama just gave it to me,” Wilson said. “That building was funded long before I got to Congress. I didn’t say that. I have staff, people who write the speeches. You can’t say that.”
Johnson was killed during an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger in West Africa. Wilson said Trump was disrespectful to his widow, Myeshia, by saying her husband had known what he was getting into by joining the Army, and by calling him “your guy” instead of using his name. The Pentagon has opened an investigation into the ambush where Johnson was killed as troubling questions about the sequence of events have emerged. The attack, apparently carried out by militants affiliated with Islamic State, was the deadliest since Trump took office, yet the U.S. military’s Africa Command still does not have a clear “story board” of facts that commanders usually gather swiftly after deadly incidents.
Meanwhile, on Thursday night, Trump blasted Wilson in a tweet Thursday night, calling her “wacky” and accusing the Florida Democrat of lying about the content of his phone call with the family of a fallen soldier.
“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!” Trump tweeted.
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
For now, the national conversation has lingered on the exact language Trump used during phone calls with Gold Star families and absent a phone recording leaking, it is unclear how this topic will be resolved. Kelly, himself a Gold Star father, urged the press and public to keep the pain of Gold Star ‘sacred’. Unfortunately for military families everywhere, it looks like that ship has sailed.