Kelly says he was ‘stunned’ by congresswoman’s account of Trump’s call – CNN
Kelly said he advised Trump on what to say before he called the families of the four fallen soldiers who died during an ambush in Niger and encouraged Trump to offer similar words that Gen. Joseph Dunford offered to Kelly when his own son was killed in Afghanistan.
“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,” Kelly said, channeling Dunford’s words to him upon the death of Kelly’s son. “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.”
Rep. Frederica Wilson told CNN Tuesday evening that Trump told the widow that her husband “knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt.”
Wilson, who listened in on the call via speakerphone, said on CNN’s “New Day” Wednesday morning that Trump didn’t know the name of the service member and that his widow “broke down” after her call with the President.
Sgt. La David Johnson was among the four US soldiers killed by enemy fire in the October 4 ambush.
Cowanda Jones-Johnson, a family member who raised Johnson, told CNN Wednesday that Wilson’s account of the call between Trump and Johnson’s widow, Myeshia, was “very accurate.”
Trump denied Wilson’s account in both a tweet and a statement made at the White House.
Kelly prefaced his criticism of Wilson by drawing on his own experiences losing a son — which he rarely discusses publicly — to paint a picture for Americans of the ultimate sacrifice a sliver of the population will ever know.
In gut-wrenching detail, Kelly spoke of the meticulous process by which the bodies of American troops are returned to the United States — “their first stop is when they are packed in ice” — and spoke of military casualty officers proceeding “to break the heart of a family member” by informing them of their child or spouse’s death.
He spoke of war buddies phoning families — like his — to share stories of the fallen and said the letters from commanders and the President of the United States don’t help ease the pain.
Kelly’s place at the podium came days after Trump pulled his chief of staff into the political storm by saying in an interview with Fox News: “You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?”
The answer to that question was no, Kelly said Thursday, though he stressed “that was not a criticism.”
In fact, Kelly said he advised Trump not to phone the families of fallen soldiers because “if you’re not in the family, if you’ve never worn the uniform, if you’re not in combat, you can’t even begin to imagine how to make that call.”
When Trump insisted on making the calls, Kelly offered advice.
But Kelly said Wilson exhibited “selfish behavior” with her account of the call.
The four-star general said Wilson’s words prompted him to leave the White House to go to Arlington National Cemetery and “go walk among the finest men and women on this earth.”
Politicizing a soldier’s death
But while Kelly expressed his anger at the politicization of the death of American soldiers, he also chose to ignore Trump’s role in stoking it in the first place.
He also papered over Trump’s decision to compare his communications with the families of fallen soldiers with those of his predecessors, namely Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
Kelly did say that he believed phone calls and even letters from US presidents could not “lighten the burden on these families” and said he advised Trump against the phone calls.
Kelly said he advised the President to not make the phone calls because there is “no perfect way” to call the family of a fallen soldier.
“He said to me, ‘What do I say?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, there is nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families.'”
CNN’s Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.
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