White House chief of staff John Kelly declined to apologize for inaccurately recounting a 2015 speech by Rep. Frederica Wilson that he used to attack the Miami Gardens Democrat during a week-long dispute between Wilson and President Donald Trump.
“No. Never. Well, I’ll apologize if I need to. But for something like that, absolutely not. I stand by my comments,” Kelly said to conservative Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Monday night.
Kelly also attempted to explain that Wilson made comments after her speech at a 2015 FBI field office dedication ceremony in Miramar where she took undue credit for her role in the building's development. Video of Wilson's speech shows that she never took credit for securing federal funding for the $194 million project.
“Well, I’ll go back and talk about before her comments and at the reception afterwards,” Kelly said to Ingraham. “Again, it was a package deal. Don’t want to get into it.”
That was in contrast to his initial comments from the White House podium.
“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 Obama, and on that phone call, he gave the money, the $20 million, to build the building, and she sat down,” Kelly said on Oct. 19.
The dispute between Kelly and Wilson began after Wilson overheard a phone call between the president and the widow of a soldier who was a longtime constituent of Wilson’s and a participant in a mentoring program started by Wilson.
Wilson was in the car on the way to meet the casket when Trump called Sgt. La David Johnson’s family after he was killed in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger.
Trump said “he knew what he signed up for... but when it happens it hurts anyway,” according to Wilson, who heard the call on speakerphone in the car. Johnson's widow, Myeshia Johnson, backed up Wilson's account of the call.
“As far as the young widow goes — she has every right to say what she wants to say,” Kelly said. “But it’s the politicization of something that was so from the heart.”
Wilson took issue with Trump’s remarks, and when she went public two weeks ago Trump attacked her in a series of tweets.
“I think it’s so insensitive. It’s crazy. Why do you need to say that?’’ Wilson told the Miami Herald. “You don’t say that to someone who lost family, the father, the breadwinner. You can say, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss. He’s a hero.’”
Kelly also talked to Ingraham about his support for Confederate General Robert E. Lee, calling him an “honorable man,” and said that the removal of Confederate monuments shows “a lack of appreciation for history.”