White House chief of staff John Kelly on Thursday defended President Donald Trump’s comments to the family of a fallen soldier.
“I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning and brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing,” Kelly at a White House press briefing. “A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the president of the United States to a young wife — and in his way tried to express that opinion that he’s a brave man, a fallen hero.”
The president has faced criticism after he told the widow of U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson that the soldier “knew what he signed up for … but when it happens, it hurts anyway.” Johnson died in a deadly ambush in Niger on October 4.
Trump’s remarks were first revealed by Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), who was with the widow, Myeshia Johnson, when the phone call took place.
“It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me,” Kelly said. “And I thought at least that was sacred.”
“And when I listened to this woman and what she was saying and what she was doing on TV, the only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go and walk among the finest men and women on this earth, and you can always find them, because they’re in Arlington National Cemetery.”
Kelly said Trump expressed his condolences as best as he could. The retired United States Marine Corps general also appeared to take some of the blame for the president’s comment.
“And [Trump] said to me, what do I say? I said to him, sir, there’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families,” Kelly said.
“Let me tell you what I tell them, let me tell you what my best friend told me because he was my casualty officer, he said Kel, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were, because we’re at war. And when he died and the four cases we’re talking about — Niger and my son’s cases in Afghanistan — when he died he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends.”
Trump on Wednesday denied that he told Johnson’s family “knew what he signed up for.”
“I didn’t say what that congresswoman said,” Trump said. “I did not say what she said.”
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