On Oct. 19, current White House Chief of Staff, retired General, and Gold Star father, John Kelly, held a press conference at the White House where he lashed out against congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-Florida) for her negative comments about a phone call President Trump made to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, a soldier who recently died in Niger.
These comments from Gen. Kelly were criticized by another Gold Star father, Khzir Khan, who believes Kelly did the exact thing he was complaining about in his press conference. Instead of making the issue a politicized one, Khan wishes the Trump Administration would have shown more “dignity and restraint” considering the death of a U.S. soldier. We, the editorial board, believe Khzir Khan is right in his criticism of Kelly.
Gen. Kelly began his remarks with what appeared to be a very personal and heartfelt statement about the sacrifices of U.S. soldiers and what happens when a soldier dies in war. Being a former General and Gold Star father himself, Kelly knows about military sacrifice and the pain of losing a son to war. Unfortunately, for reasons that only Gen. Kelly truly knows, he chose to respond to what he perceived to be politicization by Frederica Wilson by further politicizing the issue. By the end of his press conference, Gen. Kelly had, almost inexplicably, launched into an attack on Congresswoman Wilson, attempting to make her the focus instead of the clumsily-worded comments by President Trump.
In his remarks, Gen. Kelly made statements about Congresswoman Wilson that are simply not true. He digressed into a scathing attack of Wilson regarding her speech at a dedication ceremony honoring two FBI agents who had died in the line of duty. In a clear attempt to smear her reputation, Gen. Kelly mischaracterized her speech as grandstanding and opportunistic. The video recording of the event directly disputes Gen. Kelly’s claims.
The Trump administration implied that Congresswoman Wilson initially politicized this issue when she revealed that Trump told Myeshia Johnson that her husband, “knew what he was getting into,” making the issue an attack on Trump. However, Wilson was a friend of the Johnson family and just happened to be in the car when the phone call from President Trump was made. Johnson even reinforced Wilson’s recollection of the call by saying she was “100 percent correct.” So, it is questionable whether this is politicization at all.
So, what are we to make of Mr. Khan and Gen. Kelly? Khan’s criticism of Kelly is fair. Kelly went too far in attempting to defend President Trump and continued to make it a political issue. Being a Gold Star father himself, Khan knows something of the sensitivity surrounding this issue. Khan’s remarks call for unity among Gold Star family members, and dignity, respect, and privacy during a difficult time. To be sure, Gen. Kelly also knows how important this is but chose to ignore it for political purposes. We believe he would have done well to simply use the considerable power of his office to remind the American people what a terribly difficult time this is for a Gold Star family member and left it at that.