Rep. Frederica Wilson said Friday that White House chief of staff John Kelly lied when he criticized her for allegedly taking credit for securing funding for an FBI field office two years ago.
Kelly, speaking at a briefing Thursday afternoon, denounced Wilson after the Democratic congresswoman publicly criticized President Donald Trump’s comments during a phone call with the widow of a fallen soldier.
“I was not even in Congress in 2009 when the money for the building was secured,” the Florida Democrat said Friday on CNN’s “New Day.” “So that’s a lie. How dare he. However, I named the building at the behest of (then-FBI Director James Comey) with the help of (then-House Speaker John Boehner), working across party lines. So he didn’t tell the truth.” She earlier denied Kelly’s claim to the Miami Herald Thursday night.
Kelly was referring Thursday to an FBI field office in Miramar, Florida, that was dedicated in 2015 to two FBI agents who were killed during a gunfight with drug traffickers. The chief of staff said he was “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.”
Wilson told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota that Kelly’s “empty barrel” remark was racist, but didn’t explain why.
“We looked it up in the dictionary, because I had never heard of an empty barrel. And I don’t like to be dragged into something like that,” she said.
Trump and Wilson have engaged in a public dispute over the past several days over a highly sensitive call placed to the late Sgt. La David Johnson’s family. The President, according to the congresswoman and a family member present during the condolence call, said Johnson “knew what he signed up for.” Wilson said Friday that is “not a good message to say to anyone who has lost a child at war.”
“You don’t sign up because you think you’re going to die,” she told CNN. “You sign up to serve your country.”
She was referring to how Kelly, a Gold Star father, said he was “brokenhearted” by the congresswoman’s criticism. He said he had advised Trump on what to say before he called the families of the four fallen soldiers who died during an ambush in Niger earlier this month, including the point that soldiers “knew what the possibilities were” of joining the military.
Wilson said Friday that she didn’t misinterpret anything when she listened in on that call.
“There’s nothing to misinterpret. He said what he said,” the Florida Democrat said. “I just don’t agree with it. I just don’t agree with that’s what you should say to grieving families.”
On Thursday night, Trump again denied Wilson’s account of his call, deeming it a “total lie” hours after his own chief of staff said she mischaracterized the call.
“The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson(D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!” Trump tweeted Thursday evening.
Wilson, who listened in on the call via speakerphone because she is close with the family, said that she wants to shift the focus on receiving more information from the Pentagon about the Niger attack.
“My emphasis today is on my constituents and helping them lay our hero to rest,” she said. “That’s where my head is today. I’m also concerned about (Sgt. La David Johnson) and his last moments. I want to know why he was separated from the rest of the soldiers.”
She continued: “Why did it take 48 hours to find him? Was he still alive? Was he kidnapped? What’s going on? … I am distraught and so is the family. There are so many questions that should be answered.”
Johnson was among the four US soldiers killed by 50 ISIS fighters in Niger in an ambush earlier this month.
What we know and don’t know about the deadly Niger attack
CNN’s Sophie Tatum contributed to this report.