On Thursday, White House chief of staff General John Kelly, whose son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, took to the White House podium to excoriate the media and Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) for politicizing a condolence phone call from President Trump to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, killed in Niger two weeks ago. “I was stunned and broken hearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing,” Kelly stated, calling Wilson “selfish.” Kelly added that he advised Trump on what to say to Myeshia Johnson before Trump spoke with her, and that the much-ballyhooed “he knew what he was getting into” line was meant to pay tribute to Johnson’s bravery in signing up for the military in the first place. Kelly explained:
He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1%. He knew what the possibilities were because we were at war. And when he died he was surrounded by the best men on this Earth, his friends. That's what the President tried to say to the four families the other day.
Now, Wilson has attacked Kelly directly. “John Kelly’s trying to keep his job,” Wilson stated. “He will say anything. There were other people who heard what I heard.”
Wilson’s not the only political figure attacking a Gold Star parent.
Brian Fallon, former spokesman for Hillary Clinton, tweeted thusly:
So, will the media treat Wilson and Fallon in the same way they treated Trump after Trump attacked the Khan family during the 2016 Democratic National Convention? After Khizr Khan attacked Trump personally, Trump responded by blasting Khan’s wife; that led to weeks of recriminations. Will there be any such recriminations in order for Wilson or Fallon?
To be fair to Wilson, Kelly was listening in on the Trump call, according to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Wilson was apparently present for the phone call because she was personally close with the Johnson family; it’s also worth noting that Johnson’s aunt confirmed Wilson’s account. At best, this is a disagreement on how the conversation could be taken. Nonetheless, the attack on Kelly’s character reeks of politics.
At this point, it seems there’s enough blame to go around. Trump never should have suggested that Presidents Obama and Bush didn’t do an appropriate amount of outreach to Gold Star families; the media never should have responded by attempting to prove that Trump’s outreach has been insufficient; the White House never should have used Kelly’s son as fodder for response based on Obama’s failure to immediately call General Kelly; Wilson shouldn’t have politicized a condolence call.
If Kelly’s press conference today did anything to restore a semblance of sanctity to fallen soldiers and their families, he’ll have accomplished a great good.