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White House press secretary: It’s ‘highly inappropriate’ to question a 4-star Marine general

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Oct. 20 defended Chief of Staff John F. Kelly's attacks on Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.). (Video: Reuters, Photo: Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told a reporter Friday that it would be “highly inappropriate” to get into a debate with “a four-star Marine general” over whether he misstated facts.

At issue was the appearance Thursday of White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, a retired Marine general, before the media in which he robustly defended President Trump’s call earlier this week to the widow of a soldier killed in Niger.

Kelly was highly critical of Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) for listening in on the call with the widow and also for her role in a 2015 dedication ceremony for a federal building that was named for two slain FBI agents.

John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff whose son died in combat, defends president’s call to Gold Star widow

On Thursday, Kelly said he had been “stunned” to hear Wilson claim credit at the ceremony for securing the funding for the building.

A video of her speech at the ceremony showed Wilson did not take credit for securing the money. She instead spent about two minutes of a nine-minute speech recalling the effort that she led in Congress to name the building for the agents, whom she praised effusively in her remarks.

Pressed on the discrepancy Friday by veteran CBS News correspondent Chip Reid during the daily news briefing, Sanders said that Wilson had “also made quite a few comments that day that weren’t part of that speech and weren’t part of that video that were also witnessed by the many people who were there.”

Asked by Reid what those comments were, Sanders characterized them as “exactly” what Kelly had described during his appearance in the briefing room Thursday.

“There was a lot of grandstanding,” Sanders said. “He was stunned that she had taken the opportunity to make it about herself.”

“Can he come out here and talk about this at some point?” Reid asked.

“I think he addressed that pretty thoroughly yesterday,” Sanders said.

Reid persisted: “Well, he was wrong yesterday in talking about [Wilson] getting the money.”

“If you want to go after General Kelly, that’s up to you,” Sanders said. “I think that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general —”

“That would be great if he would come out here and do it,” Reid interjected.

Sanders then finished her sentence, saying, “that’s highly inappropriate.”

Earlier in the day, during an appearance on CNN, Wilson accused Kelly of lying about her.

“He can’t just go on TV and lie on me,” Wilson said. “I was not even in Congress in 2009 when the money for the building was secured.”

Later Friday, Sanders issued a statement seeking to clarify her remarks.

“Of course everyone can be questioned,” she said, “but after witnessing General Kelly’s heartfelt and somber account, we should all be able to agree that impugning his credibility on how to best honor fallen heroes is not appropriate.”