Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson (Fla.) said Friday that what White House chief of staff John Kelly advised President Donald Trump to say to the families of four fallen soldiers killed in Niger earlier this month was not an appropriate message to say to someone who lost a child in combat.
CNN host Alisyn Camerota asked Wilson on "New Day" about her ongoing war of words with the White House over what Trump told the pregnant widow of Green Beret Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four Americans killed two weeks ago in an ambush in Niger, in a phone conversation on Tuesday.
Camerota noted that Trump asked Kelly, a retired four-star Marine Corps general and a Gold Star father, what he should say to the fallen soldiers' families, and that Kelly shared at Thursday's White House press briefing what he told the president. She played a clip of what Kelly said.
"He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that one percent. He knew what the possibilities were, because we're at war," Kelly said, recounting what he was told when his son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. "And when he died he was surrounded by the best men on this earth—his friends. That's what the president tried to say to four families the other day."
Camerota said that one phrase Kelly used—"he knew what he was getting into"—was almost verbatim what Wilson claimed she heard the president say to Johnson's family.
"Does hearing General Kelly change how you heard that conversation?" Camerota asked Wilson.
"That is not a good message to say to anyone who has lost a child at war," Wilson responded. "You don't sign up because you think you're going to die; you sign up to serve your country."
Wilson also said that Kelly was incorrect to say that Johnson died surrounded by his friends because "he was abandoned" and that "did not apply to him."
Camerota cut in to mention that Kelly was talking about his son in that instance and was not referencing the specific case of Johnson or the other three soldiers killed in Niger.
Wilson had her own advice for what Trump should have said to Sgt. Johnson's family.
"Every soldier is different and every family is different," Wilson said. "And when you have a young mother who is six months pregnant, with two small kids, you say, ‘I am so sorry that you lost your husband, Myeshia Johnson … You have our deepest sympathy, and if there's anything I can do to ease your pain as your president, please let me know. I am so sorry.' That's what I would have said."
The Florida congresswoman said the president needs to refer to the family members by their names and reference the relationship they have with the fallen soldiers during his future calls.
Camerota noted that Kelly said the prior day he was "stunned" when he heard that Wilson "listened in" on Trump's phone conversation and publicly criticized the president for what he said. Kelly lamented how he "thought at least that was sacred."
"I wasn't listening in; I was in a car where a call was being taken on a speakerphone," Wilson said. "I wasn't listening in. Please don't characterize it as that. And I still go back to what I said from the beginning: call her by her name, Myeshia Johnson; call him by his name, Sgt. La David Johnson. He is not ‘her guy,' he is her husband, and that is the part that hurt her the most."
Wilson had originally criticized Trump for telling Myeshia Johnson that her husband "knew what he was singing up for."
Wilson said she has sympathy for Kelly losing his son in combat, adding that she has lost members of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, which she founded to help minority male students graduate from high school, during the Iraq War.
"You have my deepest sympathy," Wilson said, addressing Kelly. "But I would never say to you your son knew what he was signing up for. That would not be a part of my sympathy message."