This whole mess started, it seems, when President Trump was asked by a reporter during his Monday joint press conference with Mitch McConnell about his silence over the four U.S. service members killed in an ISIS ambush in the African nation of Niger. Sensing a media line of attack, Trump got defensive -- and in an apparent effort to overcompensate for the perceived slight, boasted of his uniquely empathetic posture toward the families of the fallen by falsely and gratuitously suggesting that President Obama and other predecessors didn't call Gold Star families to express condolences. He partially backed away from that claim a few minutes later when challenged by another journalist. The administration then pushed back on this storyline by noting that Obama hadn't called current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly when his son was killed in action in Afghanistan, although Obama invited Kelly to a Gold Star families breakfast months later.
Jumping into the partisan fray, Florida Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson embarked upon an outraged media tour blasting Trump's allegedly callous words to the wife of one of the Green Berets slain in Niger, which she overheard while grieving with the man's family (Rep. Wilson was a mentor to the late Sgt. La David Johnson, and knew his family relatively well; the phone call from the president was put on speakerphone). After Wilson went public, Johnson's widow has subsequently said she felt disrespected by Trump. Which brings us to yesterday, when Kelly gave a tour de force press conference during which he upbraided Wilson for politicizing the issue and relaying an unfairly negative spin on a "sacred" conversation between the commander-in-chief and the wife of an American soldier killed by the enemy. Allahpundit calls it one of the most effective damage control performances he's seen, especially because Kelly himself has absolute moral authority when it comes to valorous military service and losing a loved one in war. Kelly also remembered Trump's comments, which he also personally heard, quite differently than Wilson's decidedly uncharitable framing;
POTUS couldn’t have asked for more from him to end the controversy over what he said to Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow. Kelly *is* angry — at Rep. Frederica Wilson, not at Trump, for listening in on Trump’s condolence call and then using it as a political bludgeon. (Kelly himself was listening in, actually, according to Sarah Huckabee Sanders.) And Trump only said what Kelly advised him to say, Kelly adds. The idea that Johnson “knew what he signed up for” was merely to suggest that he was with his comrades, serving his country and doing what he loved, when he was killed. He died nobly among those who cared for him. That’s all Trump meant. Kelly even goes so far as to note that he advised Trump *not* to call families of the fallen, as presidents don’t routinely do it and it wasn’t done when his son died (which, he stressed in noting it, was no criticism of Obama). Trump was actually going beyond the call of duty, per Kelly’s own conception of that duty.
Perhaps the president phrased his message clumsily, leading to a cold interpreation and reception from the family, but his point and motives were pure, according to Kelly. Wilson responded to Kelly's harsh criticsm...badly:
This is a cheap broadside against the integrity of a Gold Star father and four-star US general. Perhaps belatedly recognizing that she was fighting a stupid and losing battle, Wilson pulled an about-face, attempting to disentangle herself from the unseemly political battle:
That's an interesting take coming from a spotlight-seeking showboat who appeared on every television show that would have her this week in order to hammer Trump on this story. (She also called the deadly raid 'Trump's Benghazi,' which is a terrible comparison, unless I somehow missed this administration flagrantly lying about the nature of the attack to voters and to mourning family members). Not to be outdone, a former spokesman for twice-failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton went even further, launching a despicable attack on Gen. Kelly:
"Stunning and classless," writes an aghast Stephen Hayes. "Good luck with that messaging," snarks Jonah Goldberg. Opposing and criticizing Trump, including on elements of this exact controversy, is entirely in-bounds. But Trump derangement is real, and it's as blinding and corrupting as reflexive Trump boosterism. I'll leave you with Kelly going out of his way to make a point about the gap that often exists between the Beltway press and the military community -- followed by a tweet that more or less (though not quite) sums up my thoughts on on this whole, sad spectacle, in which very few of the involved partisan combatants come away looking good: