WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s call to a slain soldier’s widow continued to stir controversy Friday after a video contradicted his chief of staff’s attack on a congresswoman as a grandstander at a 2015 FBI ceremony.
Despite the contradiction, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday that chief of staff John Kelly “absolutely” stood by his comments about the ceremony, which he attended as commander of the U.S. Southern Command.
At the White House press briefing Thursday, Kelly, whose son died as a solider, derided Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), who has been critical of Trump, as an “empty barrel” for claiming at the dedication of a new FBI field office that she was “instrumental in getting the funding” for the building.
But the video of Wilson’s speech at the April 10, 2015 dedication ceremony, posted by the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida on Friday, shows that Wilson didn’t mention obtaining the $20 million in federal funds for the building, a legislative task completed before she was elected.
Instead, it shows that Wilson talked about her role in a bipartisan push on short notice to win congressional approval for the FBI’s request to name the office for two special agents killed in a gun battle, and effusively praised the FBI, first responders and the military.
Brushing the video aside, Huckabee Sanders said, “General Kelly said he was stunned that Representative Wilson made comments at a building dedication honoring slain FBI agents about her own actions in Congress, including lobbying former President Obama on legislation.”
Sanders said Kelly indicated that her grandstanding at the ceremony came across in “quite a few comments that day that weren’t part of that speech and weren’t part of that video.”
Asked to bring Kelly back to answer questions about the discrepancy between his complaints about Wilson and the video, Sanders said, “If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”
On CNN, Wilson said it was the White House, not her, creating more anguish for a grieving family. “You know, I feel sorry for General Kelly,” she said. “He has my sympathy for the loss of his son. But he can’t just go on TV and lie on me.”
Trump and Kelly have been critical of Wilson since she said the president had been disrespectful to a grieving family in his condolence phone call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was slain Oct. 4 in Niger in an ambush by Islamist militants.
Trump called the widow, Myeshia Johnson, as she, her family and Wilson drove to Miami’s airport to receive the body. Wilson said Trump had told Johnson’s widow that “you know that this could happen when you signed up for it . . . but it still hurts.”
Johnson’s aunt said the family took that remark to be disrespectful.
At the White House briefing Thursday, Kelly explained that when Trump asked for advice on what to say in the condolence call he had told him what General Joseph Dunford said to him when his son Robert Kelly was killed while on duty in Afghanistan.
Dunford said his son “was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war,” Kelly said.
While the White House had hoped that Kelly’s dramatic and emotional appearance Thursday would end the controversy, Trump revived it late Thursday in 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!” Trump posted to Twitter.