White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made an emotive defence of US President Donald Trump on Thursday, amid a scandal over the president’s phone call with a military widow.
Kelly – a former general whose son died in Afghanistan and who spent nearly four decades in the Marine Corps – said he had advised Trump not to call the families of four servicemen killed in Niger personally, but was disgusted by how the issue had become politicised.
He blamed the Democratic lawmaker who made public the contents of a call between Trump and widow Myeshia Johnson.
“I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning and brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing,” he said.
“A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the president of the United States to a young wife,” he said.
“Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred.”
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 20, 2017
Trump sparked furore
Trump kicked off the furore early this week by falsely claiming Barack Obama and other former US leaders did not call the families of fallen soldiers.
He returned to the subject in an interview with Fox News radio and brought up his chief of staff Kelly, whose son, a Marine Corps lieutenant, was killed by a landmine in Afghanistan in 2010.
“You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?'” Trump said.
It was then alleged that during a call Trump had offended the pregnant widow of Sergeant La David Johnson, 25, who was one of four US service members killed in a militant ambush on October 4.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Thursday that Johnson’s body was “found later” by non-American forces following the ambush, which is thought to have been conducted by militants in an area where a Daesh affiliate operates.
The details of Trump’s call with Johnson’s widow were released by Frederica Wilson, a Democratic congresswoman from Florida.
“I didn’t hear the whole phone call, but I did hear him say, ‘I’m sure he knew what he was signing up for, but it still hurts,'” she recalled, sparking another round of controversy.
Cowanda Jones-Johnson, Sgt. Johnson's mom, just sent me a FB message. She is backing Rep. Wilson's version. "Yes. He did state that comment"
— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) October 18, 2017
I still stand by my account of the call b/t @realDonaldTrump and Myeshia Johnson. That is her name, Mr. Trump. Not "the woman" or "the wife"
— Rep Frederica Wilson (@RepWilson) October 18, 2017
“Trump did disrespect my son”
The soldier’s mother also suggested the president struggled to convey an empathetic tone.
“President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband,” Sergeant Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told Washington Post.
Kelly said he had advised Trump not to make the calls, “My first recommendation was he not do it. Because it’s not the phone call that parents, family members are looking forward to.”
But, after taking advice, Kelly said Trump “called four people the other day and expressed his condolences in the best way he could.”