(CNN)In defending President Donald Trump's comments to the widow of a slain soldier, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Thursday undercut a stunning allegation levied by Trump against a member of Congress a day earlier.
Kelly's defense of Trump calls into question 'fabricated' tweet
On Wednesday morning, as the controversy over his call to the wife of Sgt. La David Johnson widened, Trump accused Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat, of lying about the details of the conversation -- in which he reportedly told Myeshia Johnson of her husband, "he knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt."
"Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof)," Trump tweeted. "Sad!"
But there was no clear-cut evidence, like a recording, as White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders conceded on Wednesday after being pressed for details by CNN's Sara Murray -- only a handful of witnesses. One of them, she said, was Kelly. A day later, the chief of staff, who lost his own son in combat in Afghanistan, took the podium to provide new context.
Kelly spoke at length, and in detail, about what follows the death of a US soldier at war -- and the painstaking, awful banality of how the government delivers the news to their loved ones. He talked about his own experience and told reporters that Trump tried his level best to communicate warmly, with empathy, in his own calls.
"He called four people the other day to express his condolences in the best way that he could," Kelly said of the President. "And 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.'"
Kelly continued, recalling what he was told by Gen. Joseph Dunford, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after his own son died, then, addressing the situation here, added that he was "stunned" and "broken-hearted" by Wilson's role in conveying the details of the call to the media.
"In his way," Kelly said of Trump, he "tried to express that opinion -- that (Johnson) is a brave man, a fallen hero. He knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted. There's no reason to enlist, he enlisted. And he was where he wanted to be with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken. That was the message. That was the message that was transmitted."
The message received, however, was different. For whatever reason -- some kind of miscommunication, the President's own shortcomings -- it did not land as intended. We know that because the family, not just the politician, told us. Cowanda Jones-Johnson told CNN Wednesday that Wilson's account of the call was "very accurate."
But rather than own up to it, apologize, or simply move along, Trump chose to attack the messenger.
We know now, based on what Kelly said Thursday, that Wilson's account was not "totally fabricated" -- and are left with still more reason to believe Trump's accusation was.