White House chief of staff John Kelly, in an extraordinary and at times emotional statement Thursday, said he advised President Donald Trump on what to say before he called the families of the four fallen soldiers who died during an ambush in Niger.
Kelly said from the White House briefing room that he advised Trump to offer similar words that Gen. Joseph Dunford offered to Kelly when his son was killed in Afghanistan.
“He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1%. He knew what the possibilities were because we were at war,” Kelly said, channeling Dunford’s words to him upon the death of Kelly’s son. “And when he died he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends. That’s what the President tried to say to the four families the other day.”
Kelly said he was “stunned” Wednesday when he heard what Rep. Frederica Wilson said about Trump’s phone conversation with the widow of a fallen soldier.
The Democratic congresswoman told CNN Tuesday evening that Trump told the widow that her husband “knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt.”
Wilson, who listened in on the call via speakerphone, said on CNN’s “New Day” Wednesday morning that Trump didn’t know the name of the service member and that his widow “broke down” after her call with the President.
Sgt. La David Johnson was among the four US soldiers killed by enemy fire in the October 4 ambush.
Cowanda Jones-Johnson, a family member who raised Johnson, told CNN Wednesday that Wilson’s account of the call between Trump and Johnson’s widow, Myeshia, was “very accurate.” She said she was in the car when the call happened.
Trump denied Wilson’s account in both a tweet and a statement made at the White House.
“I didn’t say what that congresswoman said. Didn’t say it at all,” Trump told reporters during a meeting on tax reform in the Cabinet Room. “She knows it. And she now is not saying it. I did not say what she said.”
Trump said he had a “very nice” conversation with Johnson’s widow, “who sounded like a lovely woman.” Referring to Wilson, he added: “I’d like her to make the statement again because I did not say what she said.”
Kelly said it prompted him to leave the White House to go to Arlington National Cemetery and “go walk among the finest men and women on this earth.”