In an emotional 20-minute-long speech from the White House press briefing room on Wednesday, White House chief of staff John Kelly chided a congresswomen who politicized the death of a Gold Star soldier.
Kelly, whose own son was killed while serving in Afghanistan, criticized Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) for telling reporters about a conversation she overheard between President Trump and a young widow of a soldier who was killed in an ambush in Niger earlier this month.
“It stuns me that a member of congress would’ve listened in on that conversation,” Kelly said. “I thought at least that was sacred. You know when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in this country. Women were sacred and looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we can see from recent cases.”
“I just thought the selfless devotion that brings a man or a women to die on the battlefield — I just thought that that might be sacred. And when I listened to this woman and what she was saying and what she was doing on TV, the only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go and walk among the finest men and women on this earth. And you can always find them because they’re at Arlington National Cemetery. I went over there for an hour and a half, walked among the stones — some of which I put there because they were doing what I told them to do when they were killed.”
Kelly advised Trump not to call the family of the fallen soldiers and pointed out that past presidents did not make calls to the family members of every single soldier who was killed in the line of duty.
“I can tell you that President Obama, who was my commander-in-chief when I was on active duty, did not call my family,” he said. “That was not a criticism. That was just to simply say that I don’t believe President Obama called. That’s not a negative thing.”
When Donald Trump asked Kelly what to say when he called the widow of the fallen soldier, Kelly repeated the words an officer told him when his own son died — that “he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends.”
Kelly recounted a story in which he attended the dedication of a new FBI field office in Miami dedicated to two men who died in a gunfight with drug traffickers while on duty. Several family members of the fallen officers and other agents who survived the shootout were in attendance as well as a congresswoman who decided to politicize the ceremony and make it all about herself.
“In the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, she stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building,” he said. “We were stunned. Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone who was that empty of a barrel, we were stunned. But we didn’t go to the press.”
“I still hope that as you write your stories, and I appeal to America, let’s not let this last thing that’s held sacred in our society — a young man or young woman going out and giving his or her life for our country — let’s try to somehow to keep that sacred,” he said. “But it eroded a great deal yesterday by a selfish member of congress.”
At the end of his remarks, Kelly asked the reporters in attendance how many of them were related to a Gold Star recipient. When no one seemed to answer affirmatively, Kelly asked how many knew someone who was the parent or sibling of a Gold Star family member and called on that reporter for a question. Kelly only called on reporters who knew a Gold Star recipient for the remainder of the briefing.
And in response? This in-kind donation to Trump 2020. https://t.co/vVIiljCU4z
— Ben Domenech (@bdomenech) October 19, 2017