Representative Frederica Wilson alleged that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly employed “a racist term” in his criticism of her actions after she assailed President Donald Trump over his call to the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger.
Kelly, who addressed reporters at the White House press briefing Thursday, rebuked Wilson, D-Fla., for deriding Trump’s comments on the condolence call. Without mentioning Wilson by name, Kelly also appeared to attack her for comments he said she made at the opening of a FBI field office in Miami in 2015, which was named for FBI agents killed in the line of duty.
“A congresswoman stood up, and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building,” Kelly said Thursday. “We were stunned, stunned that she’d done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.”
The congresswoman responded to Kelly in an interview with CNN Friday morning, taking umbrage at the metaphor Kelly employed in his criticism of her.
“I think that’s a racist term too, I’m thinking about that when we looked it up in the dictionary because I had never heard of an empty barrel and I don’t like to be dragged into something like that,” Wilson told CNN.
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White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders repeated Kelly’s “empty barrel” comment to reporters at Friday’s press briefing and explained, “If you don’t understand that reference I’ll put it a little more simply. As we say in the south, all hat, no cattle.”
Sanders further pointed to Kelly’s military rank as a reason not to question his criticism of the congresswoman after reporters pointed out Friday that video of Wilson’s speech at the FBI event obtained by The Sun-Sentinel newspaper appeared to refute Kelly’s account.
“If you want to go after General Kelly, that’s up to you, but I think if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general I think that’s something highly inappropriate,” Sanders said.
In her interview with CNN, Wilson called attention to the fact that she wasn’t serving when funding for the FBI office was secured.
“I was not even in Congress in 2009. So that’s a lie. How dare he? However, I named the building at the behest of Director [James] Comey with the help of Speaker [John] Boehner working across party lines, so he didn’t tell the truth and he needs to stop telling lies on me,” she responded.
Wilson was in a car with Myeshia Johnson when she received a call from Trump earlier this week about the death of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, in Niger earlier this month. She took issue with what she said Trump told Mrs. Johnson: that her husband “must have known what he signed up for.”
Trump later criticized the congresswoman and denied her account of the conversation on Twitter.
Kelly said Trump’s comments to Johnson were based on what he was told in 2010 by Gen. Joseph Dunford, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when his son Robert Kelly was killed in combat. Kelly said the president asked him for advice about what to say.