White House Chief of Staff John Kelly says he was stunned to learn that Congresswoman Frederica Wilson listened in on the president’s call to a fallen soldier’s wife.
A retired general who lost his own son in Afghanistan in 2010, Kelly said the call to Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s wife should have been ‘sacred’ and that Wilson should not have repeated President Trump’s words to the Green Beret’s widow.
‘It stuns me that a Member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. I though at least that was sacred,’ he said.
In his remarks, Kelly called Wilson a ‘selfish Member of Congress.’
The White House official found himself at the center of a charge that President Barack Obama ‘didn’t make calls’ to the families of fallen soldiers this week after President Trump claimed that Obama didn’t call Kelly when his son Robert died.
Kelly said Thursday at a White House news conference that it’s true – but he wasn’t offended.
‘I can tell you that President Obama who was my commander-in-chief when I was on active duty did not call my family 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,’ he said.
In fact, Kelly says he counseled Trump not to call Gold Star families.
‘When I took this job and talked to President Trump about how to do it, my first recommendation was he not do it,’ he said. ‘Because it’s not the phone call that parents, family members are looking forward to. It’s nice to do them in my opinion, in any event.’
The controversy over the Gold Star families began when Trump told reporters during an impromptu news conference that most presidents ‘didn’t make calls’ as he came under scrutiny for waiting so long to comment on four U.S. soldiers’ deaths in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger.
Trump said he’d written the families and would be making calls soon. When he did, Wilson, a Democrat who represents Florida, claimed that Trump dismissively told Johnson’s widow Myeshia that Johnson ‘knew what he signed up for’ by enlisting, adding that ‘when it happens it hurts anyway.’
Kelly’s appearance at the podium was a surprise one. The daily press briefing is typically handled by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokeswoman.
After brief, opening remarks on Thursday, Huckabee Sanders invited Kelly to the podium to give a play-by-play of what happens when a service member is killed in action and how grieving family members are informed.
‘Most Americans don’t know what happens when we lose one of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines or coast guardsman in combat,’ he said.
As he went through the process, the press briefing room fell silent.
‘Their buddies wrap them up in whatever passes for a shroud. Puts them on a helicopter as a routine. And sends them home,’ Kelly said.