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In attack on Frederica Wilson over Trump’s call to widow, John Kelly gets facts wrong

Frederica Wilson 2

@alextdaugherty @anitakumar01 @doug_hanks

When White House Chief of Staff John Kelly condemned a Miami congresswoman on Thursday for sneering at President Donald Trump’s condolence call to a soldier’s widow, the retired general recalled when the two attended a somber ceremony in Miramar to dedicate a new FBI building named after two slain FBI agents.

Kelly criticized Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson for claiming “she got the money” for the new building during the 2015 ceremony while he and others in the audience were focused on the heroism of agents Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove, killed during a 1986 shootout with bank robbers south of Miami.

Thursday night, Wilson said Kelly got the story flat-out wrong. In fact, she said Washington approved the money before she was even in Congress. The legislation she sponsored named the building after Grogan and Dove, a law enacted just days before the ceremony.

“He shouldn't be able to just say that, that is terrible,” Wilson said of Kelly’s remarks in the White House briefing room, the latest volley in the controversy over Trump’s condolence call to a military widow from Miami Gardens, an area Wilson represents. “This has become totally personal.”

In 2015, Wilson won praise from Miami Republicans for sponsoring the bill to name the long anticipated federal building after two agents who became legends in local law enforcement.

At the dedication ceremony, James Comey, then director of the FBI, lauded Wilson’s legislation, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama three days before the April 2015 ceremony.

“Rep. Wilson truly did the impossible, and we are eternally grateful,” Comey said in his remarks.

On Thursday evening, an administration spokesman issued a statement that said: “The White House stands by Gen. Kelly’s account of the event.”

The controversy was still raging at the White House late Thursday night. Shortly before 11 p.m., Trump tweeted: “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!”

The exchange began during a rare appearance in the White House briefing room by Kelly to address the firestorm over Wilson sharing her first-hand account of Trump’s call Tuesday to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed during an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger in West Africa. Wilson said Trump was disrespectful to his widow, Myeshia, by saying her husband had known what he was getting into by joining the Army, and by calling him “your guy” instead of using his name.

Kelly tapped into his personal experience as the former head of the U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Doral, a position that often had him representing the Defense Department in local events. That included the dedication of the FBI regional building in Miramar, when he said Wilson’s remarks were jarring and self-serving.

“A congresswoman stood up, and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call, he gave the money, the $20 million, to build the building, and she sat down,” Kelly told reporters.

The Miami Herald could not obtain video of the April 10, 2015, event, or a transcript of the remarks. Wilson denied saying what Kelly described, and said the timing made no sense.

The General Services Administration had already bid out a $144 million construction contract for the project in September 2010, just a few months before Wilson won her congressional seat. The bidding for federal projects takes place after Congress has secured the funding.

“That is crazy that I got [the money] and Mr. Obama just gave it to me,” Wilson said. “That building was funded long before I got to Congress. I didn’t say that. I have staff, people who write the speeches. You can’t say that.”

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