President Trump on Saturday took fresh aim on Twitter at the "wacky" Florida congresswoman who criticized him over a military condolence call, stoking a controversy that has dogged his presidency for nearly a week, with many questions still unanswered.
The president’s tweet was the latest volley in a White House effort to discredit Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.), a friend of the family of one of four service members killed in an ambush in Niger. And it came on the day that hundreds of people streamed to a church in suburban Fort Lauderdale for the funeral of the soldier, Sgt. La David Johnson.
“I hope the Fake News Media keeps talking about Wacky Congresswoman Wilson in that she, as a representative, is killing the Democrat Party!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The tweet capped off a week that began with Trump falsely claiming that past presidents didn’t call Gold Star families and that he called the families of “virtually everybody” killed in action during his presidency.
On Saturday, the White House declined to spell out how many families Trump had actually called, though administration officials have acknowledged that he did not personally phone all of the more than 20 personnel who have been killed in hostile actions.
Roll Call reported Friday that Trump's comment in a radio interview about calling "virtually everyone" sent White House aides scrambling to gather an up-to-date list of those who had been killed, aware of the fact that Trump had overstated his claim.
Citing an internal Defense Department email, the report said that the executive secretary to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis provided the White House with information about how each service member had died and contact information for his or her survivors.
“The White House ensured that the President had contacted all families of soldiers killed in action that had been presented to him through existing protocols,” deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement Saturday.
Earlier in the week, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested that some families might not have been contacted yet because of the time required to complete those protocols. Aides also acknowledged that not every “contact” was a phone call from the president.
The controversy over Trump’s handling of condolence calls has largely overshadowed Trump’s legislative agenda, including his promise to deliver “massive” tax cuts.
In a separate tweet Saturday morning, Trump complained that the mainstream media had not done enough to cover the passage of a budget by the U.S. Senate, a move that will make it possible for a tax-cut package to be approved without Democratic support.
Within the hour, however, he started tweeting about the condolence controversy.
Besides the attack on Wilson, Trump retweeted the message of a Twitter user who suggested that the media was focusing so heavily on the congresswoman to deflect attention from a story Trump has said is undercovered: the purchase of U.S. uranium mines by a Russian-backed company in 2010.
The agreement was reached while Hillary Clinton led the State Department, and some investors in the company had relationships with former president Bill Clinton and donated to the Clinton Foundation.
“People get what is going on!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Those tweets came a day after a video emerged showing that White House chief of staff John F. Kelley had made false claims about Wilson.
Kelly was highly critical of Wilson for listening in on Trump’s call to the widow of Johnson and also for her role in a 2015 dedication ceremony for a federal building that was named for two slain FBI agents.
Speaking to reporters Thursday in the White House briefing room, 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.
On Friday, Sanders stood by Kelly’s comments and cautioned a reporter that it would be “highly inappropriate” to get into a debate with “a four-star Marine general” over whether he misstated facts.
During interviews Friday, Wilson accused Kelly of lying about her.
“He can’t just go on TV and lie on me,” she said on CNN. “I was not even in Congress in 2009 when the money for the building was secured.”
In an interview with Fox Business Network taped Friday, Trump accused Wilson of debasing Kelly by suggesting that the chief of staff had defended the president at Trump’s insistence, to keep his job.
“When she made that statement, I thought it was sickening, actually,” Trump said. He added that Kelly is “doing an incredible job” and said the general, who had listened in on his call with Johnson, was “offended” that Wilson would make it public.