After Video Contradicts John Kelly, White House Doubles Down In Defense

Oliver Contreras/SIPPL Sipa USA

The White House on Friday stood behind its chief of staff, despite video showing definitively that he misspoke when he attacked a Democratic congresswoman on Thursday.

Though John Kelly originally attacked Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) on Thursday for bragging about securing funding for an FBI building at a dedication ceremony in 2015, video published by the Sun Sentinel Friday of that 2015 event shows that Wilson did no such thing. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in a statement to TPM, glossed over Kelly’s inaccuracies.

“Gen. Kelly said he was ‘stunned’ that Rep. Wilson made comments at a building dedication honoring slain FBI agents about her own actions in Congress, including lobbying former President Obama on legislation,” Sanders said in a statement.

But that’s not an accurate summary of the chief of staff’s statement. Kelly said he was “stunned” that Wilson had spoken about securing the building’s funding. In reality, she had only briefly mentioned her efforts to pass legislation to have the building named after two fallen FBI officers. And, secondly, Wilson made no mention of lobbying Obama in her 2015 speech, according to the Sentinel’s video. 

Neither Sanders nor another White House spokesperson responded to TPM’s questions about the details it mischaracterized in recounting Kelly’s attack.

Sanders’ statement continued: “As Gen. Kelly pointed out, if you’re able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes about yourself, you’re an empty barrel.”

“Empty barrel” is what Kelly called Wilson for her sharing with the media that President Donald Trump did not mention Sgt. Johnson’s name in the call with his widow, according to Wilson, and that he had told her that Johnson knew what he signed up for.”

Kelly on Thursday said that Wilson, in her 2015 speech, “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.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously assistant editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.
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