The White House unloaded on Rep. Frederica Wilson for ‘grandstanding’ at an FBI building dedication ceremony even though video of the event shows she did not take credit for getting funds for it as White House chief of staff John Kelly claimed.
White House chief of staff John Kelly blasted Wilson in an emotional statement at the White House Thursday, denouncing her as an ’empty barrel’ in an anecdote that began coming apart hours after he told it.
Video of the even shows that while she talked up her own efforts to name the building after two fallen agents, she did not to what Kelly claimed.
‘Gen. Kelly said he was stunned that Representative Wilson made comments at a building dedication honoring slain FBI agents about her own actions in Congress including lobbying former President Obama on legislation,’ White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Frida.
Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., talks to reporters, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Wilson is standing by her statement that President Donald Trump told Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson killed in an ambush in Niger, that her husband ‘knew what he signed up for.’ She stayed away from Washington and wouldn’t respond after getting trashed by chief of staff John Kelly
‘As General Kelly pointed out if you’re able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes all about yourself, you’re an empty barrel. If you don’t understand that reference, I’ll put it a little bit more simply. As we say in the South, all hat, no cattle.’
Told that video of the speech shows Willson ‘effusively praising’ the FBI agents and not taking credit for the funds, Sanders stood her ground.
‘She also mentioned that and she also had a few comments that day that weren’t part of that speech and that weren’t part of that video that were also witnessed by many people that were there,’ she said. ‘What General Kelly referenced yesterday. Exactly what he said there was a lot of grandstanding, he was stunned that she had taken that opportunity to make it about herself.’
She said Kelly wouldn’t come out to explain, having addressed the matter ‘pretty thoroughly,’ then played the military card.
The White House chief of staff, Kelly, pictured, and the Florida congresswoman are wrapped up in a mushrooming dispute over the president’s condolence call earlier this week to a soldier’s family that Wilson says was inappropriate
‘If you want to go after General Kelly that’s up to you, but I think that that – if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine General, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate,’ she said.
That line drew immediate derision from the press online. One journalist, CNN’s Jake Tapper, recommended Ken Burns’ documentary on Vietnam for anyone who doesn’t think generals should get questioned.
‘I specifically said and I’ll repeat it again that General Kelly was stunned, that she made comments about herself and that was the point of what he said. That was what took place here yesterday and we still stand by those comments,’ Sanders said.
Trump gushed about Kelly in a new interview that airs Sunday on Fox Business Channel.
President Trump hailed Kely as a ‘very elegant man’
‘He is a very elegant man. He is a tough, strong four-star Marine. You’re a four-star Marine, you’ve got something special to start off with, OK? … He was so offended, because he was in the room when I made the call and so were other people. And the call was a very nice call. He was so offended that a woman would be — that somebody would be listening to that call,’ Trump said.
‘Actually, he said to me “Sir, this is not acceptable. This is really not.’
‘And he knew — I was so nice. Look, I’ve called many people. And I would think that every one of them appreciated it. I was very surprised to see this to be honest with you,’ he said.
Trump also volunteered that he mentioned Sgt. Johnson’s name when he called his widow, although he did not use Johnson’s name in the telling.
‘And by the way, I spoke of the name of the young man and I — it was a really — it’s a very tough call. Those are the toughest calls,’ he said.
‘These are very, very hard calls. They’re sad. And sometimes, you know, the grieving is so incredible. But he’s just an elegant man and a wonderful man and he’s doing a fantastic job as chief,’ Trump said.
Asked about Wilson’s comment that Kelly was trying to keep his job, Trump responded: ‘He doesn’t need this job. In fact, he didn’t really want this job. He was so happy, you know, he’s a military guy. He was doing this incredible job on the border and elsewhere.’
‘And it’s not that he wanted it. Actually, he would have preferred doing and staying where he was,’ Trump said of Kelly
‘And it’s not that he wanted it. Actually, he would have preferred doing and staying where he was. He’s a man that felt it would be important for the country. He does it for the country. He’s not doing it for what he wants. He does it for the country.’ The president added, ‘He’s a very unusual man. So when she made that statement, I thought it was sickening, actually.’
Kelly, himself a Gold Star father, went after Wilson, who had listened in on a phone call President Trump placed to the widow of La David Johnson, who was killed in action in Niger, and said the president made her feel disrespected.
He denounced the lawmaker, without mentioning her, as he told the story a building dedication he attended in Miami where a new FBI building was named after two agents who died in a gun battle.
Kelly was steaming at the lawmaker for listening in on President Trump’s call to the widow of a fallen soldier
Wilson said she went into ‘attack mode’ to get the building named, but didn’t take credit for getting funding for it as Kelly said she did
CUTS LIKE A KNIFE: The White House hit Wilson for ‘grandstanding’ at the event
The FBI South Florida field office became a political hot potato after a flap over its naming ceremony
‘And a congresswoman stood up – and in the 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,’ Kerry said, in obvious disgust.
‘And she just called up president Obama and on that phone call he gave the money, the $20 million to build the building. She sat down. We were stunned, stunned that she’d done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned. But you know, none of us went to the press and criticized. None of us stood up and were appalled. We just said, ‘Okay, fine.”
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson says John Kelly lied about her behavior at the dedication of an FBI building in her district. ‘You know, I feel sorry for Gen. Kelly. He has the sympathy for the loss of his son. But he can’t just go on TV and lie on me,’ Wilson said Friday on CNN
During her remarks, she acknowledged ‘my colleagues in Congress’ and asked some of them to stand.
She even acknowledges it was the FBI’s idea – mentioning Republicans and Democrats who assisted.
Within her state, she called Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart someone ‘who has always advocated for the issues that impact our community.’
She hailed fellow lawmakers, saying they ‘all helped move this bill.’
She made no mention of funding, the building being already funded and on the eve of rededication.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stood by the account at Friday’s White House press briefing, calling Wilson – who is known for her cowboy hat fetish – ‘all hat and no cattle.’
She maintained Kelly’s recollection, which she indicated wasn’t necessarily based on the speech.
In her own telling during the speech, Wilson said the FBI approached her office, telling her there were just four weeks to name the building in advance of the dedication.
This photo provided by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command shows Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. President Donald Trump told Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, that her husband ‘knew what he signed up for,’ according to Wilson, who said she heard part of the conversation on speakerphon
‘One problem: the FBI wnats to name this gorgeous edifice at the same time, she said
‘Everyone said that’s impossible. I said I’m a school principal. And I said, excuse my French, aw hell no. We’re gonna get this done. Immediately, I went to attack mode,’ she continued.
She went to then-House Speaker John Boehner. ‘I said Mr. Speaker I need your help. The FBI needs your help and our country needs your help … He went into attack mode and in two days pulled it out of committee, brought it to the floor for a vote.’
‘I dashed it over to the Senate and put our senators on notice … They hotlined it to the Senate floor in just two days. and guess what the president signed the bill into law this past Tuesday April 7, 2015 with a bang, bang bang.’
She also recounted the heroism of the two agents the building was being named after, Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove, who died in a 1986 shootout with bank robbers near Miami.
Kelly, in his emotional statement, misstated Dove’s name as Duke Thursday.
At the Miami event, former FBI Director James Comey – who Kelly praised Thursday for having giving moving remarks at the event – shared credit with Wilson. ‘Rep. Wilson truly did the impossible, and we are eternally grateful,’ Comey said.
Wilson says John Kelly lied about her behavior at the dedication of an FBI building in her state and made a ‘racist’ charge against her in the process.
Wilson says she wasn’t a Member of Congress when the money for the building was secured, so she couldn’t have ‘bragged’ about bringing home the bacon like Kelly said she did.
‘You know, I feel sorry for Gen. Kelly. He has the sympathy for the loss of his son. But he can’t just go on TV and lie on me,’ Wilson said Friday on CNN.
The Florida Democrat also accused Kelly of using a ‘racist’ epithet against her during a White House news conference on Thursday afternoon, where he compared her to an ’empty barrel.’
Wilson said that after looking it up in the dictionary, she had concluded that ’empty barrel’ is a ‘racist term.’
A Sun Sentinel article from the day of the dedication said her heroics in the naming episode were backed up by another person who was present at the ceremony, James Comey, then the FBI director.
‘Rep. Wilson truly did the impossible, and we are eternally grateful,’ the news publication quoted Comey as saying.
Kelly, a retired general whose own son died in combat, was in the room with Trump when the president called the grieving family on Tuesday. He suggested yesterday that Trump spoke the words in question to the Johnsons – it’s the sentiment behind the statement that’s being misconstrued.
Denouncing Wilson as ‘selfish’ in an emotional statement for listening in on the presidential condolence call in the first place, Kelly smacked the Florida lawmaker for her conduct a 2015 memorial service for two slain FBI agents in Miami-Dade.
‘And a congresswoman stood up, and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there and 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,’ Kelly said.
‘And she sat down, and we were stunned. Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned,’ he added.
Kelly – himself a Gold Star parent following his son’s 2010 death in Afghanistan – delivered the shocking statement from the White House briefing room.
He appeared on camera to provide testimony about the mechanics of how the military transfers the remains of the fallen and of how he learned his own son had been killed in action. Kelly also said that he looked gloweringly on Wilson’s behavior now and at the FBI ceremony.
Wilson told a reporter afterward that the White House official was just trying to protect himself.
‘John Kelly’s trying to keep his job,’ Wilson told Politico. ‘He will say anything. There were other people who heard what I heard,’ she said, in reference to the president’s condolence call.
Speaking from Florida, Wilson teed off on Trump, calling him a ‘jerk’ and a ‘liar.’
She accused Kelly of lying, too, in a subsequent appearance on CNN.