By Ali Vitali, NBC News
In heart-felt remarks about his own loss, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a former general whose Marine son was killed in Afghanistan, said Thursday he was “stunned” by a Florida lawmaker’s criticism of President Donald Trump’s condolence call to a fallen soldier’s wife.
Kelly described himself as “broken-hearted” coming to work at the White House on Wednesday as he saw Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democrat, on news networks disclosing the private details of Trump’s call to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was among four soldiers killed this month in Niger.
(After listening to Rep. Wilson’s claims about President Trump’s condolence call, Chief of Staff General John Kelly says he collected his thoughts with a reflective walk through Arlington National Cemetery. Courtesy of NBC News and YouTube)
(White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders delivers an on-camera briefing to the press corps. Chief of Staff General John Kelly also speaks. Courtesy of NBC News and YouTube)
Speaking to reporters in the White House briefing room, Kelly disclosed what he was told when informed that his son, 1st Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, died when he stepped on a landmine in Afghanistan in 2010.
Kelly recalled that Gen. Joseph Dunford, now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, informed him of his son’s death, telling him that his son “was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed.”
“He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent,” who serve the nation, Kelly said Dunford told him. “He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war. And when he died … he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends.”
Kelly added, “That’s what the president tried to say to the four families the other day.”
Kelly’s explanation gave additional context to Trump’s comments that were so harshly criticized by Wilson, who ripped the president for telling Johnson that her husband “knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt.”
A spokesperson for Wilson told NBC News after Kelly’s remarks that the congresswoman would not be making any further comment on the issue “because the focus should be on helping a grieving widow and family heal, not on her or Donald Trump.”
The president told reporters Tuesday to ask Kelly if Obama had called him after his son was killed.
Kelly confirmed Thursday that Obama did not call but the chief of staff made clear he did not intend any criticism of Obama and was only stating a fact.
While taking questions after his comments, Kelly only called on reporters who personally knew Gold Star families.
Editor’s note: As the proud parent of a U.S. Marine you have my respect and gratitude for sharing your story today General Kelly. I applaud your families strength, love of one another, and devotion to duty. Your family, as are all Gold Star families, in my heart and prayers today and always. Respectfully, tlw