White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly gave a rare and emotionally charged White House Press Briefing yesterday, where he explained in detail the context surrounding President Trump’s phone call with the family of recently KIA Sergeant La David Johnson.
In explicit detail, General Kelly laid out the process for notifying the next of kin and loved ones of a service member who is killed in combat; the tenor of his speech suggesting that Kelly believed the facts and details surrounding the incident were being misrepresented.
The soundbites so far reported on General Kelly’s briefing have been crafted or tagged with “Kelly defends Trump”, or something similar. But listening to the anguish in General Kelly’s voice as he describes what it’s like for a Gold Star family to receive word that their world is forever changed illustrates the issue is more than simply “defending Trump.”
Kelly, whose own son 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly was killed in combat, is perhaps better suited than any other person in this country to offer his perspective on the issue. Being on both the receiving end as a parent, and on the notifying end as a commander, Kelly says he initially told President Trump to not make the call at all. Citing that there was no precedent or expectation for the Commander-in-Chief to place such a call, Kelly said there was “nothing you could do to lighten the burden on these families.” And that President Obama did not personally call him when his son was killed.
But with the decision made, Kelly says he advised Trump with similar words he received from General Joseph Dunford when he served as his casualty notification officer. “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’re 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 four families the other day.”
Kelly then shifted to his description of the events leading up to the phone call to blasting Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-Fl.), who was listening in on the call between Trump and the family of Sgt. Johnson, and then went on to publicize her interpretation of the conversation to the media.
“I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning, and broken hearted, at what I saw a member of Congress doing. A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the President of the United States to a young wife, and in his way, try to express that opinion.”
“It stuns me that a member of Congress would listen in on that conversation, absolutely stuns me.” Kelly said. “I thought, at least that was sacred.”
Kelly then shared his own personal experience with Congresswoman Wilson from an encounter he had with her in 2015. At the opening of a new FBI field office in Miami, dedicated to fallen FBI Agents killed in a firefight in Miami in 1986, Kelly said that in the midst of honoring the fallen Agents, Wilson stood up and congratulated herself for securing the money necessary for the construction of the building.
“There were family members there. Some of the children that were there were only 3 and 4 years old when their dads were killed on that street in Miami-Dade.”
“And a Congresswoman stood up, and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that, and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building.”
“We were stunned, stunned that she’d done it…but none of us went to the press and criticized, none of us stood up and were appalled, we just said, ok, fine. I appeal to America that let’s not this last thing that is held sacred, a young man or young man going out and giving his or her life for our country. Let’s try to somehow keep that sacred.”
Watch the briefing in its entirety below.
Image courtesy of the White House