While defending how Donald Trump responded to U.S. military members being killed in Africa this month, the White House chief of staff seemingly confirmed that the president did callously tell a grieving widow that her soldier husband “knew what he had signed up for” before he died in action.
John Kelly said the same was true for his own son, an Army lieutenant who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.
“He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed,” Kelly said during a press conference Thursday. “He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1%. He knew what the possibilities were because we were at war. And when he died he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends. That’s what the President tried to say to the four families the other day.”
The comment was seemingly referring to the call of condolences the president made to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was one of the four Green Beret commandos killed in Niger on Oct. 4. It would take Trump nearly two weeks to publicly comment on those deaths. His silence was only broken once Democratic Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who was with Johnson’s widow when the president called, told reporters Trump said Johnson “knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt.”
Johnson was immediately skeptical of Kelly’s comments on Thursday.
“John Kelly’s trying to keep his job,” Wilson told POLITICO. “He will say anything. There were other people who heard what I heard.”
Compounding the matter, Trump didn’t even seem to know Johnson’s name during the phone call, the soldier’s widow told Wilson.
The president tweeted on Wednesday that Wilson “fabricated” the entire story, insisting he had “proof” and saying she was lying in an effort to politicize the moment.
While the actual contents of that phone call may never get revealed, this much is true: A group of U.S. military members were ambushed in West Africa by an Islamic State-affiliated group. The soldiers were traveling without an armored convoy and without any air support and had to fend for themselves for over an hour until help arrived to airlift them out of harm’s way. Four American lives were lost and two other soldiers were injured. Because of the president’s apparent unwillingness to immediately discuss the attack, Wilson has labeled it “Trump’s Benghazi.”