WASHINGTON – Video of a 2015 speech delivered by Rep. Frederica S. Wilson, D-Fla., revealed Friday that John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, misrepresented her remarks when he accused her of bragging about securing $20 million for a South Florida FBI building and twisting President Barack Obama’s arm.
Wilson, in an interview Friday, called Kelly a liar and hinted strongly that the altercation, prompted by a call from President Donald Trump to the widow of a fallen black soldier, was racially charged. “The White House itself is full of white supremacists,” she said.
Kelly, escalating a feud between Trump and Wilson, had cast the congresswoman on Thursday as a publicity-seeking opportunist. However, the video, released by the Sun Sentinel, a newspaper in South Florida, showed that during her nine-minute speech, Wilson never took credit for getting the money for the building, only for helping pass legislation naming the building after two fallen federal agents.
She never mentioned pleading with Obama, and she acknowledged the help of several Republicans, including John Boehner, then the House speaker; Florida Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo; and Sen. Marco Rubio, also of Florida.
“I feel very sorry for him because he feels such a need to lie on me and I’m not even his enemy,” Wilson said of Kelly. “I just can’t even imagine why he would fabricate something like that. … I’m just flabbergasted because it’s very easy to trace.”
While she stopped short of accusing Kelly, a retired Marine general, of racial animus, she did say that others in the White House are racially biased.
“They are making themselves look like fools. They have no credibility,” she said.
Trump and his top aides remained defiant Friday in the face of the escalating criticism about the way he and Kelly have handled the sensitive subject.
After a late-night tweet Thursday from Trump in which he called Wilson “wacky,” aides continued to insist that Kelly had told the truth when he attacked the congresswoman.
“The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson(D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said Friday that Kelly “absolutely” stands by his Thursday remarks.
“General Kelly said he was ‘stunned’ that Rep. Wilson made comments at a building dedication honoring slain FBI agents about her own actions in Congress, including lobbying former President Obama on legislation,” Sanders said in a statement. “As General Kelly pointed out, if you’re able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes about yourself, you’re an empty barrel.”
Sanders escalated the messaging a few hours later, when she accused reporters of inappropriately criticizing Kelly and insisted that Wilson had been grandstanding during her speech in front of the FBI building in 2015.
“As we say in the South: All hat, no cattle,” Sanders said.
The charges and countercharges Friday veered into the incendiary issue of race. Wilson is black, as is Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, one of four U.S. soldiers killed in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger.
Stacey Plaskett, a Democrat and the Virgin Islands’ delegate to Congress, said she was especially offended that Trump did not seem to know La David Johnson’s name.
“I think he challenges anybody who goes after him and corrects him, whether they are black or white or male or female,” she continued. “I think the attack is more stark when it is a woman of color.”