Video undermines White House attack on Rep. Wilson over condolence calls

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly speaks about President Trump’s calls to fallen service members next of kin during a briefing at the White House October 19, 2017 in Washington. (Photo: Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

The controversy continues over President Trump’s treatment of a military widow during a condolence call, with Rep. Frederica Wilson, Fla., accusing the White House of lying about her record.

And new video emerged Friday bolstering Wilson’s case.

White House chief of staff John Kelly criticized Wilson on Thursday for reporting that Trump told Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four soldiers killed in Niger earlier this month, “knew what he signed up for” by joining the service.

Kelly did not mention Wilson by name. He then went on to slam an unnamed congresswoman at a 2015 event he and Wilson were both at. Kelly said at a FBI building dedication in Miami, the congresswoman, “in the tradition of empty barrels making the most noise,” boasted about securing $20 million in funding for the building,

But video of Wilson’s speech, uncovered by the Sun-Sentinel newspaper, did not show her making the funding boast.

“That’s a lie,” Wilson said Friday of Kelly’s comments, during a “New Day” interview. “I feel sorry for Gen. Kelly, he has my sympathy for the loss of his son, but he can’t just go on TV and lie on me. I was not even in Congress in 2009 when the money for the building was secured, so that’s a lie. How dare he.”

The chief of staff said the ceremony was a solemn affair, as the building was being named for slain FBI agents “Grogan and Duke.” Wilson was in attendance because she introduced the legislation to name the field office for Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove.

Dignitaries cut a ribbon to mark the dedication of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s new $194 million South Florida field office in April. From left, FBI Director James Comey, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, acting GSA Administrator Denise Roth, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne Messam, and George Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami. (Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP)

In a statement to NBC News, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Kelly’s remarks expressed that he was “stunned” by Wilson’s speech. At a White House briefing on Friday, Sanders also said Kelly “absolutely” stands by his statement.

On Thursday, Kelly also said he was “broken-hearted” that Wilson had “listened in” on the conversation between Trump and Johnson. Wilson says she is a family friend and was in the car with Johnson, who held the call on speakerphone en route to receive her husband’s body at the airport. It was then, Wilson said, that Trump told Johnson that her slain husband “knew what he signed up for.”

Trump denied the remark outright, but Kelly seemed to confirm it Thursday, characterizing it as a distortion of a well-intended sentiment. Even after Kelly gave his account, Trump said the “wacky” Wilson was pushing a “total lie” in a tweet Thursday night.


On Friday, Wilson simply said, “There’s nothing to misinterpret. He said what he said.”

Trump drew attention to his interactions with military families Tuesday when he falsely claimed that his predecessors — name-checking former President Barack Obama specifically — did not call to express condolences to Gold Star families. Trump made the comments while defending his own lack of public statements about the four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger on Oct. 4. Trump then reached out to the families of the slain service members, including Myeshia Johnson.

Kelly, a retired Marine general, had suggested Thursday that Trump’s false statement about past presidents’ calls emerged from a conversation about the issue. In that discussion, Kelly said, he noted that Obama didn’t call him when his son, a Marine, was killed in 2010.

“That was not a criticism, that was just to simply say I don’t believe President Obama called. That’s not a negative thing,” Kelly said.

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