John Kelly Defends Trump's Controversial Call To A Gold Star Family

White House/YouTube

White House chief of staff John Kelly, a former Marine Corps general whose son was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2010, responded to a firestorm of criticism President Donald Trump faced after a congresswoman alleged that Trump told the widow of a slain soldier that her husband "must have known what he signed up for."

Kelly defended Trump, saying that there is "no perfect way to make that phone call" to the family of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four US Army Special Forces troops killed in action during a mission in Niger earlier this month, but that the president intended to commend Johnson's bravery.

"I told him, 'Sir, there's nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families," Kelly told reporters at a Thursday afternoon press briefing.

Kelly said he advised Trump on what to say during calls he made to the families of the four troops.

"He's a brave man, a fallen hero, he knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted," Kelly said of Johnson. "And it 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 that was transmitted."

Rep. Frederica Wilson, a friend of Johnson's family, said she overheard Trump make the controversial remark on a phone call to Johnson's widow, Myeshia, on Tuesday.

On Wednesday morning, Trump accused Wilson of lying about what he said, adding that he has "proof" to support his denial.

"Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!" Trump wrote.

Wilson responded to Trump's accusation on Wednesday morning, calling the president "a sick man" who "feels no pity or sympathy for anyone."

Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, said on Wednesday that she agreed with Wilson's account of the call.

"President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband," Jones-Johnson told The Washington Post.

Trump doubled down on his denial of the congresswoman's account on Wednesday.

"I didn't say what that congresswoman said; didn't say it all.  She knows it," Trump told reporters. "I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife who was — sounded like a lovely woman. Did not say what the congresswoman said, and most people aren't too surprised to hear that."

Kelly said he was angered and saddened by Wilson's criticism of the call, adding that he was so upset he had to walk around Arlington National Cemetary for over an hour to collect his thoughts.

"I was stunned when I came to work yesterday, and brokenhearted, when I saw what a member of Congress was doing," he said. "What she was saying, what she was doing on TV. The only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go walk among the finest men or women on this earth."

Kelly also responded to Trump's suggestion earlier this week that former President Barack Obama did not call Kelly's family after his son was killed in action.

The chief of staff confirmed that he told Trump that Obama did not call him, but said "that was not a criticism" of Obama.

"He asked me about previous presidents and I said, 'I can tell you that president Obama ... didn't call my family," Kelly said. "That was not a criticism. That was simply to say, 'I don't believe President Obama called.'"

Watch a clip below:

More from Business Insider:

The scene of Monday's plane crash in North Carolina. (North Carolina Department of Transportation/Susan Kinner)

A military plane crashed in North Carolina on Monday, according to the Marine Corps.

The pilot safely ejected before the crash in Craven County, and no deaths have been reported, according to a Facebook post from the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.

Read More Show Less

A U.S. Army National Guardsman convicted of murder in the 2010 fatal shooting of an Afghan man was released Monday morning from a military prison at Fort Leavenworth.

As a white van carried Sgt. Derrick Miller to a parking lot at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, the guardsman's mother, Renee Myers, held an American flag and excitedly said: "Ah, my baby."

"Hey, mom," Miller said as he stepped out of the van after eight years in military prison. He rubbed her back as the two embraced.

Miller's release comes as President Donald Trump is said to be considering pardons for several military members accused or convicted of war crimes, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Read More Show Less
The Hays Country Sheriff's Department in Texas (YouTube screenshot)

Five U.S. Navy sailors have been charged with aggravated sexual assault in connection with a rape reported in Hays County, Texas last year.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Marine Corps Veterans salute during the 5th Marines Vietnam War Memorial unveiling ceremony in the Camp San Mateo Memorial Garden at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., May 28, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Rhita Daniel)

California's high cost of living makes it a difficult place for retired military service members to settle down, according to an annual report by financial services website WalletHub.

California — home to the largest number of active-duty troops in the nation — fares poorly in the survey when it comes to affordable housing, homelessness and the proportion of of businesses in the state that are owned by veterans.

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hundreds of members of the U.S. Congress signed a letter to President Donald Trump on Monday arguing that the United States should remain engaged with the conflict in Syria, saying they were "deeply concerned" about extremist groups in the country.

Read More Show Less