John Kelly Just Showed Us Who He Is as a Human Being

Let’s be honest, the only things most of us know about Congresswoman Frederica Wilson are that she is African American and a rather flamboyant dresser. So I’m not here to defend her record in Congress—or prior to being elected. But one of the ugliest aspects of what John Kelly did yesterday in his remarks during the press briefing was to attack her personally. As it turns out, his attempts to do so were based on distortions and lies.

Here is the distortion:

It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred.

Wilson heard the conversation, which was on speaker phone, because she was in the car with the family headed to the airport to meet the casket of Sgt. La David Johnson. Apparently her ties with both he and his family are deep, including the fact that Johnson was a participant in the mentoring program she founded. You can make a case that she shouldn’t have spoken up about the family’s reaction to what Trump said, but the idea that Wilson took aim at something sacred by simply hearing the conversation is an absurd smear.

We now know that the next thing Kelly said was a lie. He tells a story about being at the dedication of a new FBI field office in Miami in 2015 that was dedicated to two men killed in a firefight in Miami against drug traffickers.

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. 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.

The Miami Herald tells the real story.

Thursday night, Wilson said Kelly got the story flat-out wrong. In fact, she said Washington approved the money before she was even in Congress. The legislation she sponsored named the building after Grogan and Dove, a law enacted just days before the ceremony…

In 2015, Wilson won praise from Miami Republicans for sponsoring the bill to name the long anticipated federal building after two agents who became legends in local law enforcement.

At the dedication ceremony, James Comey, then director of the FBI, lauded Wilson’s legislation, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama three days before the April 2015 ceremony.

“Rep. Wilson truly did the impossible, and we are eternally grateful,” Comey said in his remarks.

In the big picture scheme of things, this isn’t a story that has great impact on the lives of the American people. It is just another example of how Trump and his administration distract and divide us. But it tells us a lot about the man who currently serves as the president’s chief of staff, and has been heralded as one of the adults in the room.

Kelly made a decision this week. Rather that pull Trump aside after his remarks on Tuesday to counsel him that what a president does to console the families of soldiers who have been killed in service to their country is a private matter, he chose to personally attack a congresswoman with distortions and lies. That speaks volumes about his unwillingness to rein in some of Trump’s worst impulses.

In writing about this, Josh Marshall goes back to his theme that Trump is poison and therefore, damages everyone around him. There is some truth to that. But my problem with that characterization is that it robs Kelly of any personal agency for what he did yesterday. I recognize that people want to honor Kelly because of his military service. I, too, honor anyone who has served admirably, as Kelly seems to have done. But that doesn’t absolve people of accountability for their actions. Kelly just showed us a bit more about who he is as a human being and how he approaches his job as the president’s chief of staff. We should take note of that.

UPDATE: The Sun Sentinel has video of Rep. Frederica Wilson’s remarks at the dedication of the FBI field office in Miami. Hearing what she actually said makes Kelly’s lies even more unconscionable.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.