White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly said Monday he would not apologize for the false attacks he leveled against Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) this month when he sought to defend President Trump for his handling of a condolence call to the widow of a fallen soldier.
On Oct. 19, in a rare appearance at the White House media briefing, Kelly attacked Wilson as an “empty barrel” and accused her of grandstanding at a public event two years ago in Florida by taking credit for securing federal funding for a new building.
Video of the event soon released by the Florida Sun Sentinel showed Wilson did no such thing. Rather, she used her speech to praise the two slain FBI agents in whose memory the building was named. Wilson accused Kelly of “character assassination,” and members of the Congressional Black Caucus demanded that Kelly apologize.
In an interview to be broadcast Monday night, Fox News Channel host Laura Ingraham asked Kelly whether he had something to apologize for.
“Oh, no,” Kelly replied. “No. Never. Well, I'll apologize if I need to. But for something like that, absolutely not. I stand by my comments.”
Kelly suggested that he may have been accusing Wilson of grandstanding in a private discussion, as opposed to in her public speech, although his comment to Ingraham was vague.
“I'll go back and talk about before her comments and at the reception afterwards,” Kelly said. “Again, it was a package deal. Don't want to get into it.”
Kelly went on to say that Myeshia Johnson, the widow of fallen Sgt. La David Johnson, has acted within her rights to speak out publicly about Trump's handling of his condolence call.
“As far as the young widow goes, she has every right to say what she wants to say,” Kelly told Ingraham. “But it's the politicization of something that was so from the heart.”
Ingraham's interview — one of Kelly's rare public appearances — delved into a range of other topics, including the removal of Confederate and other historical monuments, an issue that has animated Trump in recent months.
Ingraham asked Kelly about a historic church in Alexandria, Va., where former president George Washington worshiped, deciding to remove plaques memorializing both Washington and Confederate general Robert E. Lee because they were considered intolerant.
“Well, history's history,” Kelly said. “And there are certain things in history that were not so good and other things that were very, very good. I think we make a mistake, though, and as a society and certainly as individuals, when we take what is today accepted as right and wrong and go back 100, 200, 300 years or more and say what those, you know, what Christopher Columbus did was wrong.”
Kelly added: “Human history, our culture is an evolving thing. There will be 100 or 200 years from now people that criticize us for what we do, and I guess they'll tear down, you know, statues of people that we revere today. I think it's dangerous. ... I think it's just very, very dangerous and it shows you what, how much of a lack of appreciation of history, and what history is.”