Are we actually on day five of the condolence call saga? It seems … we are. With no end in sight.
Question for Sarah Huckabee Sanders at today’s press briefing: Didn’t John Kelly get something wrong yesterday about Dem Rep. Frederica Wilson, impugning her character in the process? Here was the context for Kelly’s now famous “empty barrel” remark, describing the dedication of a new FBI field office in Florida in 2015 at which Wilson delivered a speech:
“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, 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,” Kelly said Thursday. “And we were stunned, stunned that she’d done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.”
Wilson didn’t say that, though. There’s video. She said she played a role in having the new building named after two murdered FBI agents but nothing about landing the money that built it. Kelly makes it sound like she was using an event that was supposed to be about the FBI to remind voters that she brings home the federal bacon. Not so. Would the general care to amend his remarks?
No way, says Huckabee Sanders. This White House doesn’t apologize. She claims Kelly heard Wilson talking that day about securing the money for the building — but not in her speech, rather in private conversation with attendees. That’s not how it sounds from what Kelly said yesterday, though: He talks about her standing up, talking about the money, then sitting down. Can he provide any proof, the reporters ask, that Wilson really was boasting privately about landing funding for the building? Says Huckabee Sanders, “If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that’s something highly inappropriate.” Uh, what? You can’t fact-check someone for an apparent falsehood uttered on national TV if they’re a military officer? Or is it only four-stars who get that privilege?
Realistically, this is why they deputized Kelly to address this at yesterday’s presser. It was about creating a shield of moral authority for the White House that could be used to deflect any new negative coverage if need be. Calling Trump a liar about his phone call to La David Johnson’s widow is one thing, but if you’re going to call Kelly a liar, you’re besmirching the honor of not just a Marine general but a Gold Star dad. Naturally Huckabee Sanders invokes that logic when she’s put on the spot today about the 2015 Florida event. You dare challenge the integrity (or memory) of an American patriot like John Kelly?
It was, I’m sorry to say, Spicer-esque.
By the way, Trump himself was perfectly willing to criticize generals even as a private citizen, of course:
General John Allen, who I never met but spoke against me last night, failed badly in his fight against ISIS. His record = BAD #NeverHillary
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2016
The irony is that Huckabee Sanders could have put a stop to this today just as easily as Trump could have put a stop to it on Monday. All he had to say then was that he hadn’t called the families of the troops killed in Niger yet but would be doing so this week. Instead he dragged Obama and Kelly into it. Huckabee Sanders could have said that Kelly regrets misstating yesterday that he heard Wilson talking about funding; rather he remembered her tooting her own horn about her role in naming the building. Instead we get this. Exit question: Who’s going to be responsible for extending the story to a sixth day? Will the Johnson family speak on the record to a reporter about their call with Trump? Will Wilson pipe up with some new “rock star” comment? Or will POTUS (sigh) tweet about it?
JUST IN: Reporter challenges White House to have Chief of Staff Kelly come back out, face questions on his accusations against Rep. Wilson. pic.twitter.com/rzPamqenln
— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) October 20, 2017