Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) should be enjoying the upper-hand right now, if that can be gained in a story that ideally wouldn't be political at all. Her account of President Trump's phone call to a Gold Star family, disputed by Trump, has been backed up by the fallen soldier's mother and even White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who criticized her on Thursday afternoon but in the process confirmed that the president said what Wilson claimed.
Yet Wilson made an unforced error shortly after Kelly addressed the media — a gaffe that reinforced the charge from Trump supporters that she is a self-promoter.
“You mean to tell me that I have become so important that the White House is following me and my words?” Wilson said in an interview with WSVN-TV in Miami. “This is amazing. That's amazing. That is absolutely phenomenal. I'll have to tell my kids that I'm a rock star now.”
Conservative news outlets quickly plastered Wilson's remarks on their homepages, sometimes adding exclamation points or all-caps fonts to emphasize the shock value. The congresswoman who slammed Trump for a comment that she deemed insensitive had just said something TACKY and SELF-SERVING!
In fact, Wilson's comments were not unlike ones you'd hear from Trump himself. The president has been known to marvel at his own fame, such as when he said on that infamous “Access Hollywood” tape that he kisses women without permission, “and when you're a star, they let you do it.”
By saying it is “absolutely phenomenal” that her national profile has been elevated by a story that, at the root, is about the death of Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson and three other servicemen in Niger, Wilson opened herself up to questions about her motives.
Did she set out to defend the honor of the Johnson family or to make a name for herself?
Kelly argued for the latter in not-so-subtle fashion on Thursday. He told a story about a speech that Wilson delivered in 2015 at the dedication of an FBI building in Miami, casting her as an “empty barrel” who was more interested in praising herself than honoring the two slain agents for whom the facility was named.
Kelly got the details wrong. His claim that Wilson took credit for securing funding to construct the FBI office was false.
But Wilson's “rock star” comment lent credence to Kelly's underlying accusation that she is — to borrow a word that Trump once applied to another person who spoke at the FBI dedication ceremony — a “showboat.”