Trump Administration Pushes 4-Star Marine General Into Its Gutter Of Lies.
And Yes, It’s Appropriate For Me To Say This.
On October 4th four American Green Berets were killed in an ambush by ISIS related terrorists in Niger. For 12 days the President of the United States said nothing. It’s not like he wasn’t busy, he was doing things. He played three games of golf during that time.
When he finally said something it was only because a reporter asked him about his silence. He claimed to have written letters to the families that would be sent soon, and that he would be calling the families soon. He would have been okay had he ended it there, but instead this child President couldn’t resist getting a dig at this predecessors. He did so in his usual fashion, by lying. Trump said Obama and Bush didn’t make such calls, while he did.
It has since been shown that Trump does not generally call the families of fallen soldiers, that the White House knew this as soon as he took credit for doing so and rushed to make the statement true after the fact. In one case where Trump did call he promised a $25,000 check which was never delivered, at least until the story was revealed and the President’s handlers quickly delivered the classic “the check’s in the mail” line.
One of those hastily arranged calls was to Myeshia Johnson, the wife of Sgt. David Johnson, one of those killed in the Niger attack. The call came while Ms. Johnson was in a car with Representative Frederica Wilson, and other members of the Johnson family, and was played over the car’s speaker phone.
Representative Wilson said the family was insulted because Trump apparently did not even know Sgt. Johnson’s name, repeatedly referring to him as “your guy.” One of those “your guy” references the family found particularly offensive with Trump saying “your guy must have known what he signed up for” before adding “but I guess it still hurts.”
When Representative Wilson reported this conversation Trump struck back quickly, once again using Twitter for his tirade, describing Wilson’s version of the conversation as “totally fabricated” and claiming to have proof.
Hours later Trump doubled down declaring to the press that “I didn’t say what that congresswoman said. Didn’t say it at all, she knows it.”
Representative Wilson made sure everyone knew she stood by her claim.
Trump’s tweet, and strong verbal denial, became a problem when Cowanda Jones-Johnson backed Wilson’s story. The mother of Sgt. Johnson said she also heard the conversation and flatly declared Wilson’s statement “is true” and that “President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.”
White House Spokes-toady Sarah Huckabee-Sanders was quickly reduced to no longer contesting Wilson’s account but rather saying Wilson mischaracterized the spirit of the conversation. All this unseemliness played out as Sgt. Johnson’s body was returned and his pregnant wife (who already has two children) wept on the casket on an airport tarmac.
With the President once again accused of insulting a Gold Star Family, it was decided the only way to salvage the situation was to pit another Gold Star Family member against them. The White House trotted out General John F. Kelly, the President’s Chief of Staff, to defend the President.
General Kelly has generally enjoyed a stellar reputation for character and integrity. He is indeed a Gold Star Father, having lost a son to service in Afghanistan. He was one of the three described by Senator Corker as the adults in a White House Daycare Center saving the nation from chaos. General Kelly’s reputation was about to take a hit from a self-inflicted wound.
First, General Kelly proceeded to explain why Trump said what Trump denied saying. General Kelly spoke of how he counseled the President on what to say in such calls. General Kelly movingly explained what the casualty officer who informed him of his son’s death told him:
Well, let me tell you what I told him. Let me tell you what my best friend, Joe Dunford, told me — because he was my casualty officer. He said, Kel, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war. And when he died, in the four cases we’re talking about, Niger, and my son’s case in Afghanistan — when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this Earth: his friends.
In short, General Kelly counseled Trump to say something very much like what Representative Wilson and Sgt. Johnson’s mother heard. Wilson’s representation of the call was not “totally fabricated” as claimed by Trump. Instead Trump tried to follow a script General Kelly suggested to him and likely bungled it. To say the least, what General Kelly suggested is a nuanced message, requiring a certain deftness with language our President sadly lacks. While the President’s intentions during the call were likely good, the thing is the President (yet again) reacted dishonestly when his words were reported.
General Kelly went on to to personally attack Congresswoman Wilson and in doing so undermined his own prior stellar credibility. He recalled a speech by Representative Wilson dedicating a new FBI building in Miami. Describing the Congresswoman as an “empty barrel,” General Kelly falsely claimed Wilson took credit for securing $20 million in funding for the building:
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.
Video of the speech Representative Wilson actually gave quickly emerged proving General Kelly’s characterization of her speech was completely false. She said absolutely nothing about securing funding for the building (she was not even in Congress when it was funded). She did describe her role in expediting the naming of the building through Congress. Along the way she graciously discussed Republican John Boehner’s assistance in that effort and went out of her way to eulogize the two slain FBI agents who the building was named after.
So General Kelly got it wrong. He clearly owed Representative Wilson an apology. Given his reputation for integrity I actually believed he might do exactly that.
But this administration corrupts all who touch it. No such apology was issued. When asked, in light of the video, if General Kelly stood by his comments the day before White House Spokes-toady Sarah Huckabee-Sanders declared “Absolutely!” Huckabee-Sanders then repeated the “empty barrel” insult explaining that meant “all hat, no cattle.” This was a reference to Representative Wilson penchant for wearing gauche cowboy hates.
When a reporter directly stated that General Kelly was “was wrong yesterday in talking about getting the money” the White House Spokes-toady declared that “if you want to get into a debate with a 4-star Marine General, I think that’s highly inappropriate.”
Let’s be clear about this. Neither the gold stars General Kelly used to wear, or the Gold Star status he earned as the parent of fallen soldier, puts him above the facts. The Marine motto of Semper Fi, for “always faithful,” apparently does not mean always faithful to the truth.
The General still owes that apology, at least if he can handle the truth.