A video of a 2015 dedication of an FBI building in South Florida shows that White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly was wrong when he stated Thursday that Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) had boasted of securing funding for the project.
Kelly's criticism of Wilson, during which he referred to her as an “empty barrel,” drew swift denials from the congresswoman's staff and denunciations from her supporters, who said the retired Marine Corps general was inaccurate and out of line. A White House spokesman issued a statement Thursday evening saying the White House stands by Kelly's account.
At the White House briefing Thursday, where he defended President Trump's call to a widow of a U.S. soldier who was killed in Niger two weeks ago, Kelly denounced Wilson, who had listened in on Trump's call to Myeshia Johnson, for publicly stating that Trump had been insensitive in telling her that her late husband, La David Johnson, “knew what he signed up for.”
Kelly, whose son, Robert, died in combat in Afghanistan in 2010, went on to bring up Wilson's remarks at the 2015 building dedication and said she boasted of getting money authorized by President Barack Obama to complete the project. Johnson “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,” Kelly said. He said the congresswoman was continuing a “long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise.”
Trump continued to criticize the congresswoman late Thursday on Twitter.
But a video from the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale of Wilson's remarks at the April 10, 2015, dedication shows that she said no such thing during a ceremony that included then-FBI Director James B. Comey. In her nine-minute address, Wilson did recount how she went into “attack mode” to ensure that Congress and Obama expedited a bill to name the building after two fallen FBI agents who were from the area in about four weeks.
When initially told that such legislation could take as long as a year, Wilson recalled, “I said — I’m a school principal — and I said, excuse my French, 'Aw, hell no, we’re going to get this done.'” Wilson spread credit to others for helping in the effort, including House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). She also told the stories of the heroism of the two agents, Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove, who were killed in a shootout with bank robbers in 1986 in Miami.
In an interview Thursday with McClatchy news service, Wilson said of Kelly's charge: “That is crazy that I got [the money] and Mr. Obama just gave it to me. That building was funded long before I got to Congress. I didn’t say that. I have staff, people who write the speeches. You can’t say that.”