White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Thursday blasted a congresswoman for revealing the details of a phone conversation President Donald Trump had with the widow of a soldier this week, saying he was "stunned" and "brokenhearted" by her conduct.
Kelly was so troubled by it, he said, he went to Arlington National Cemetery to collect his thoughts and walk among "the finest men and women on this Earth" for an hour-and-a-half.
Kelly made his second appearance at the White House press briefing to discuss the tumult over a call Trump made on Tuesday to Myeshia Johnson, whose husband Sgt. La David Johnson was killed this month along with three other solders in Niger.
Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson (Fla.) told reporters she overheard the call, and she ultimately made appearances on CNN, MSNBC and ABC to say that Trump had upset Johnson and acted in a callous manner by telling her that her husband knew "what he had signed up for."
Kelly, a Marine Corps general and Gold Star father himself whose son died in Afghanistan in 2010, revealed he initially advised Trump not to call the families of fallen soldiers, and he defended Trump for doing the best he could to console the families.
He said Trump wanted to make the calls and asked him what to say in such a situation. Kelly responded that his friend Gen. Joseph Dunford told him, "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."
And when he died, Kelly said, "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," Kelly said. "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 was a brave man, a fallen hero."
Kelly said Trump tried to express that Johnson was where he wanted to be and with the people he wanted to be with when he was killed.
"That was the message," Kelly said. "That was the message that was transmitted. It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me, and I thought at least that was sacred."
Wilson said on "The View" that Trump was a liar for denying he'd said anything inappropriate, and she declared Niger to be Trump's "Benghazi."