White House chief of staff John Kelly defended his criticism of Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) on Monday night by continuing to insist she was insensitive and self-congratulatory during a ceremony to dedicate an FBI building in Florida.
“Well, I’ll go back and talk about before her comments and at the reception afterwards,” Kelly told Fox News host Laura Ingraham. “Well, I’ll apologize if I need to. But for something like that, absolutely not. I stand by my comments.”
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Kelly said former FBI agents volunteered to come forward to back his account, but he said he waved them off.
In rare appearance in the White House briefing room, Kelly previously told reporters that Wilson took credit for securing the funding for the building during a dedication in 2015. The building was named for two slain FBI agents.
When the Sun-Sentinel published video of the event that refuted Kelly’s recollection, the White House defended the retired four-star Marine general by saying someone of his rank and stature should not be criticized.
Monday’s comments are the latest in an ongoing tit-for-tat between President Donald Trump, Kelly, other White House officials and Wilson. The weeks long back-and-forth began when Wilson claimed that Trump was insensitive during a call to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was one of four U.S. servicemen killed earlier this month in Niger.
The congresswoman’s account of the call was later corroborated by Johnson herself, who said the president’s words exacerbated her grief.
Kelly defended what Trump said to Johnson.
“He did the best he could to make it personal,” Kelly said. “And the best he could to make them understand how sorry he was as the president and as a father himself. And then to see what came of that just was stunning to me.”
Kelly, who is himself a Gold Star Father, said Johnson has “every right to say what she wants to say,” but once again lamented what he said he saw as the politicization of something that should remain outside the bounds of the daily fracas of politics.
Kelly, in that same briefing room appearance, provided an emotional and detailed description of what happens to the remains of a fallen service member and how the family is informed of such a tragedy.