White House chief of staff John Kelly delivered an extraordinary denunciation of a Democratic congresswoman Thursday, accusing her of politicizing what he called a "sacred" presidential effort to console the grieving loved ones of a slain soldier, the AP reports. Kelly, in an unexpected and emotional appearance in the White House briefing room, invoked the death of his own son, killed in Afghanistan in 2010, as he lashed out at Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida, who earlier this week said President Trump had been disrespectful in his condolence call to the family of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed during an ambush in Niger. Kelly, speaking slowly and forcefully, said he was "heartbroken" that Wilson overheard the conversation and used it to attack the president. He also confirmed then-President Obama didn't call him after his son's death, but emphasized that wasn't a criticism since not all presidents make phone calls.
Kelly absolved Trump of blame, suggesting that the president did the best he could in one of the most challenging aspects of his job, and noted that he advised the president against making the call since "there's no perfect way" to do it. He also attempted to explain Trump's words, per Politico: "[Johnson] knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted. ... He enlisted, and he was where he wanted to be, exactly where he wanted to be with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken. That was the message." A spokeswoman told the AP Wilson stood by her earlier comments. The congresswoman herself, asked by WSVN-TV in Florida about Kelly's remarks, replied only indirectly. "Let me tell you what my mother told me when I was little," Wilson said. "She said, 'The dog can bark at the moon all night long, but it doesn't become an issue until the moon barks back.'" Wilson also told Politico Kelly is only "trying to keep his job" and "will say anything."