White House chief of staff John Kelly on Thursday leveled fierce criticism against Rep. Frederica Wilson after the Democratic congresswoman publicly criticized President Donald Trump’s call with the widow of a fallen soldier.
But that’s not all Kelly reproached Wilson for during stunning remarks in the White House briefing room on Thursday.
Kelly also used his turn at the podium to criticize Wilson for allegedly taking credit for funding she helped obtain for an FBI field office during a 2015 ceremony dedicating a new building in Miramar, Florida to two FBI agents who were killed during a gunfight with drug traffickers.
“There were family members there,” Kelly, who attended the ceremony in his capacity as Marine Corps general and head of US Southern Command, said Thursday. “Some of the children that were there were only 3 or 4 years old when their dads were killed on that street in Miami-Dade. Three of the men that survived the fight were there and gave a rendition of how brave those men were and how they gave their lives.”
Kelly went on to describe being “stunned” by Wilson’s public comments at the ceremony dedicating the building.
“And a congresswoman stood up, and in a 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, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President (Barack) Obama, and on that phone call, he gave the money, the $20 million, to build the building, and she sat down,” Kelly said. “And we were stunned, stunned that she’d done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.”
Later, Wilson told the Miami Herald that Kelly’s retelling is wrong, since that money was approved before she was in Congress – and added that she only sponsored the legislation regarding the building’s name, not its financing.
“He shouldn’t be able to just say that, that is terrible,” Wilson said, referring to Kelly’s story at the podium. “This has become totally personal,” she told the Herald.
From the podium, Kelly also noted that then-FBI Director James Comey – whom Trump fired earlier this year – “gave an absolutely brilliant memorial speech” during the ceremony.
He did not note, though, that Comey also thanked Wilson for her work to push legislation dedicating the building to the agents through Congress in less than four weeks.
“Rep. Wilson truly did the impossible, and we are eternally grateful,” Comey said at the time, according to the Sun Sentinel.
Kelly’s criticism of the Florida congresswoman came after Wilson slammed Trump on Tuesday for being insensitive and disrespectful in his conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, in which Trump told the widow that Johnson “knew what he signed up for,” according to Wilson.
Wilson, who was with the family and listening on speaker phone when the call came in, shepherded Johnson through a youth mentoring program she had established.
Kelly did not dispute Wilson’s account of the call, but instead indicated he advised Trump to say the words for which he is now drawing criticism, though Trump has previously said Wilson’s account was “totally fabricated.”
Cowanda Jones-Johnson, a family member who raised Johnson, said Wilson’s account was accurate and also accused Trump of being disrespectful during the call.
Reached by CNN, Joyce Jones, a spokesperson for Wilson’s office declined to comment further on the tussle with Trump.
“The congresswoman has decided to not make any further comment on this issue. The focus needs to be on helping a grieving widow and family heal, and should not be on her or Donald Trump,” Jones said. “She has nothing else to add but stands by the statement issued last night.”
CNN’s Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.