White House Chief of Staff Jon Kelly appeared before the White House press corps on Thursday in an attempt to staunch the bleeding from President Trump’s self-inflicted wounds regarding his inconsistent outreach to families of soldiers who have been killed. In doing so, however, the man who has long been seen by the more craven among our political observers as the “adult” keeping Trump in check, managed instead to confirm his true nature as a key accomplice willing to use his unearned public image to bolster Trump’s abominable behavior.
Speaking first about his own experience as a Gold Star father (his son, Second Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed in action in 2010) Kelly went on to essentially affirm Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson’s nauseating account of the president’s call to the family of slain Sgt. La David T. Johnson, during which Trump allegedly told Johnson’s mother that her son had “known what he signed up for” while never actually referring to him by name.
But, Kelly insisted, the real villain here was Rep. Wilson herself.
Calling her behavior “selfish” Kelly essentially explained away Trump’s patently callous remarks by focusing instead on the fact that Rep. Wilson—a longtime friend of Johnson and his family—had been listening to the president’s call in the first place.
“I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning, and brokenhearted, at [what] a member of Congress was doing,” Kelly said. “It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. It stuns me. I thought at least that was sacred.”
Of course, nowhere did Kelly point out that he, himself, had also been listening in on the call—a fact White House Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders had previously touted as “proof” of Trump’s claim that Wilson’s account was a fabricated lie. So, rather than disputing Wilson’s description, Kelly instead corroborated it, going so far as to take credit for having suggested the offending line to Trump in the first place. Instead, Kelly argued, Wilson had misconstrued the president’s intent, and then gone and politicized the suffering of a Gold Star family.
But Kelly conveniently left out a few key details—among them the fact that Wilson wasn’t the only person who’d been outraged over the President’s call. Johnson’s mother had personally voiced her disgust with Trump’s callousness, saying, “President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.”
Kelly also failed to point out that it was President Trump himself who politicized the issue of calling grieving military families earlier this week, in a crass effort to smear President Obama.
And, perhaps most conspicuously, Kelly lamented the fact that Gold Star families were no longer “sacred,” claiming “I think that left in the convention over [last] summer”—seemingly in reference to then-candidate Trump’s bigoted attack on Khizr and Ghazala Khan during the Democratic National Convention.
In other words, Kelly spent the bulk of his time at the White House podium blaming everyone else—parents, congresswomen, and society at large—for President Trump’s longstanding and deliberate pattern of vile behavior toward military families in mourning.
Kelly may well have succeeded in stemming criticism leveled at the president in this particular instance. But, if his performance for the the White House press corps taught us anything, it’s that no one is immune from the degradation of Trump’s administration.