Following White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s dramatic remarks to the press yesterday, it was tempting to think Donald Trump would move on from this week’s cringe-worthy controversy over the president’s interactions with fallen soldiers’ loved ones.
But Trump can’t seem to leave this alone. Last night on Twitter, he took aim at Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) once again.
“The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson (D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!”
Look, there’s no real value in belaboring this, but Trump seems to think he deserves the last word on the subject, and he wants the public to believe Wilson wasn’t telling the truth.
Reality points in the opposite direction. In fact, Kelly yesterday effectively confirmed Frederica Wilson’s version of events, saying he advised the president to tell Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s loved ones he “knew what he was getting into.”
Now, it’s easy to make the argument that Trump tried to be comforting to the grieving family, and though Johnson’s loved ones took offense, that wasn’t the president’s intention. But based on the White House’s own account, nothing Wilson said has been discredited.
Trump’s smart move would be to stop digging. The president claimed this week Wilson “totally fabricated” what he said, and that turned out to be untrue. Trump claimed there was “proof” to bolster his version of events, and that turned out to be untrue. He said the congresswoman had changed her story, and that turned out to be untrue.
So why in the world does Trump want to keep the argument going over who told “a total lie”?
Two former defense secretaries, meanwhile, have spoken up this week to criticize the president’s recent behavior. Leon Panetta, who led the Pentagon in the Obama administration, told the Washington Post this week, “I just think it demeans the presidency when you use John Kelly and his son, both of whom are patriots, to back up his excuses for whatever happened. I just think it creates a sense that there is no sacred ground for this president.”
Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator who also served as Defense secretary under Obama, added in a USA Today interview yesterday, in reference to Trump, “I’m offended by the way he’s handled it. You just don’t use the families of the fallen to score political points, especially to take jabs at your predecessor. I’m very unhappy about this.”
This entire controversy was unnecessary. All the president was asked to do was comment on the deadliest combat mission since he took office, but instead of answering, Trump politicized the issue in ways that hardly seemed possible. If he could just stop talking about this, it’d be a good start.