Rep. Frederica Wilson on Friday accused White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly of lying about her and using a “racist term” when he publicly admonished her for politicizing the president’s condolence call to a Special Forces’ widow.
Mr. Kelly, a retired Marine general whose son was killed in action in Afghanistan, on Thursday denounced the Florida Democrat for listening in on President Trump’s call to Army Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow and then accusing the president of being disrespectful.
“He has my sympathy for the loss of his son, but he can’t just go on TV and lie on me,” Mrs. Wilson said on CNN.
She took issue with Mr. Kelly describing her remarks at the 2015 dedication of a FBI field office in Miami, which was named for two agents killed in the line of duty.
Mr. Kelly said she boasted about securing funding for the building in her district and described the congresswoman as “empty barrels making the most noise.”
“I was not even in Congress in 2009 when the money for the building was secured. So that’s a lie. How dare he,” Mrs. Wilson said.
She said that she did participate in the naming of the building at the behest of FBI Director James B. Comey and House Speaker John A. Boehner, describing it as a bipartisan effort.
At the dedication event in 2015, Mrs. Wilson did not talk about the funding of the project but did make remarks about her role in getting the building named.
In response to a reporter’s question about Mr. Kelly getting the details wrong, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the substance of Mr. Kelly’s comment was accurate.
“There was a lot of grandstanding. He was stunned that she took that opportunity to make it about herself,” Mrs. Sanders said.
Mrs. Wilson also took offense at the phrase “empty barrel.”
“That’s a racist term, too. I’m thinking about that. We looked it up in the dictionary because I had never heard of an empty barrel, and I don’t like to be dragged into something like that,” she said.
Mrs. Wilson did not elaborate on what she read in the dictionary or how the phrase has racist implications.
A day earlier, when Mr. Kelly made the remarks at a White House press briefing, he lamented that Mrs. Wilson had fouled the “sacred” call the president made to the widow.
Mrs. Wilson was in the car with Myeshia Johnson on Tuesday when Mr. Trump called to express condolences for the her loss of her husband, Sgt. Johnson, one of four special forces members killed in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger.
Mrs. Johnson was on her way to Miami International Airport to meet the body of her husband.
The congresswoman said Mr. Trump told the widow that her husband “knew what he signed up for, but when it happens it hurts anyway.”
She described it as disrespectful and insensitive.
Mr. Kelly said that the president was saying that Sgt. Johnson was a brave man, a fallen hero and he knew what he was getting into when chose to become one of the 1 percent who serve their country.
“I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning and brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing, a member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the president of the United States to a young wife, and in his way tried to express that opinion that he’s a brave man, a fallen hero,” Mr. Kelly said.