White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) are not fans of one another. And the tension between the two Washington politicos is taking attention further away from the issue that most recently connected them — the ambush in Niger earlier this month that killed Sgt. La David Johnson.
Wilson listened in on a call between Myeishia Johnson, the widow of Johnson, and President Trump where the commander in chief allegedly told her that her deceased husband “knew what he signed up for.” The fallen soldier's mother confirmed the congresswoman's account.
But Trump and Kelly denied it and accused Wilson of being dishonest.
“And a congresswoman stood up, and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building [a Miramar, Fla., FBI building named after two slain FBI agents], 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, to build the building, and she sat down,” Kelly said Thursday, after sharing he was “stunned” to hear that Wilson listened in on the call between President Trump and a military widow.
Wilson was not pleased at being likened to an “empty barrel.”
“I think that's a racist term, too,” she told CNN's Alisyn Camerota. “I'm thinking about that. When we looked it up in the dictionary. I had never heard of 'an empty barrel.' And I don't like to be dragged into something like that.”
The saying “an empty barrel makes the most noise” refers to the fact that if an empty barrel falls over or is tapped, the sound emanating from it will be louder than a full barrel because an empty barrel is hollow.
Kelly was suggesting that Wilson lacked substance and was self-serving, based on his account of Wilson at the FBI building ceremony.
Wilson was appalled by Kelly's attack.
“I feel sorry for General Kelly,” she said on CNN. “He has my sympathy for the loss of his son, but he can't just go on TV and lie on me.
“I was not even in Congress in 2009 when the money for the building was secured, so that's a lie. How dare he!”
A story about a Democratic lawmaker accusing the White House chief of staff of being racist, while the chief of staff accuses her of taking credit for something she said she could not have possibly done, is the latest reminder of how far this story has gotten from the real issue.
So far all we know is that Johnson was one of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers gunned down at the border of Niger and Mali in the deadliest combat incident since Trump took office. The president — who often highlights his love and respect for the military — waited 12 days before he publicly acknowledged the tragedy.
According to the Associated Press, no extremist group has claimed responsibility for the deaths, but the attack appears to be the work of the Islamic State of the Sahel, a splinter group of extremists loyal to the Islamic State group based in nearby Mali.
The Islamic militants came on motorcycles toting rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns before shattering the windows of the unarmored U.S. trucks.
Many Americans — including the Senate’s top Republican on military matters — still have questions about why American soldiers were in Niger.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) accused the Trump administration of intentionally trying to keep Congress in the dark about the military’s foreign engagements.
“There’s a mind-set over there that they’re a unicameral government,” he told The Post on Thursday. “It was easier under Obama.”
“We are coequal branches of government; we should be informed at all times,” McCain added. “We’re just not getting the information in the timely fashion that we need.”
Neither are the American people, but meanwhile there is plenty of political drama to distract from the answers to those very important questions.