John Kelly slammed for revealing "horrifying" Trump statements "three years too late"

"Has Gen. Kelly apologized yet to Congresswoman Frederica Wilson for lying about her?" MSNBC host asks

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published October 3, 2023 2:20PM (EDT)

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the beginning of a meeting with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and other government cyber security experts in the Roosevelt Room at the White House January 31, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the beginning of a meeting with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and other government cyber security experts in the Roosevelt Room at the White House January 31, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Former White House chief of staff John Kelly confirmed a series of unsavory anecdotes about his former boss in a new bombshell statement to CNN — but faced widespread criticism for waiting years to go public.

The details of Kelly's statement include alleged remarks Donald Trump made while president, and specifically underscore the insensitive nature of those made about U.S. service members and veterans. On the heels of the release of "Enough," the memoir written by former Trump aide turned whistleblower, Cassidy Hutchinson, Kelly was asked if he wanted to provide commentary about Trump's antics. "What can I say that has not already been said?" Kelly asked in response. 

"A person that thinks those who defend their country in uniform, or are shot down or seriously wounded in combat, or spend years being tortured as POWs are all 'suckers' because 'there is nothing in it for them,'" Kelly continued. "A person that did not want to be seen in the presence of military amputees because 'it doesn't look good for me.' A person who demonstrated open contempt for a Gold Star family – for all Gold Star families – on TV during the 2016 campaign, and rants that our most precious heroes who gave their lives in America's defense are 'losers' and wouldn't visit their graves in France."

"A person who is not truthful regarding his position on the protection of unborn life, on women, on minorities, on evangelical Christians, on Jews, on working men and women," he added. "A person that has no idea what America stands for and has no idea what America is all about. A person who cavalierly suggests that a selfless warrior who has served his country for 40 years in peacetime and war should lose his life for treason – in expectation that someone will take action. A person who admires autocrats and murderous dictators. A person that has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law."

"There is nothing more that can be said," Kelly closed. "God help us."

As CNN notes, Kelly's statement corroborates information contained within a 2020 article from The Atlantic that alleged the ex-president, while standing with Kelly in the section of Arlington National Cemetery dedicated to those killed in Afghanistan and Iraq on Memorial Day in 2017, said, "I don't get it. What was in it for them?"

"Those details also include Trump's inability to understand why the American public respects former prisoners of war and those shot down in combat," CNN observed, also noting how Trump during his campaign in 2015 claimed in front of a crowd in that former Vietnam prisoner of war Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, was "not a war hero."

"He was a war hero because he was captured," Trump added. "I like people who weren't captured." CNN also reported that it was this very confusion that led Trump to refer to McCain as a "loser," a word he would use in 2018 during a trip to France for the centennial anniversary of the cessation of World War I, as observed in the Atlantic's piece. Trump reportedly stated he did not want to visit the graves of American soldiers buried in the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, saying, "Why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers."

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Kelly's statement also gives credence to previous reports of Trump speaking poorly of wounded veterans on numerous occasions. Per CNN, the former chief of staff's comments provide context for an except from "'The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021,' by Susan Glasser and Peter Baker, in which Trump, after a separate trip to France in 2017, tells Kelly he wants no wounded veterans in a military parade he's trying to have planned in his honor."

"Look, I don't want any wounded guys in the parade," the ex-president allegedly said. 

"Those are the heroes," Kelly retorted. "In our society, there's only one group of people who are more heroic than they are — and they are buried over in Arlington."

"I don't want them," Trump insisted. "It doesn't look good for me."

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A recent profile done by The Atlantic of retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley references a similar incident in which Trump expressed dismay at wounded Berger Army Captain Luis Avila singing "God Bless America" at a welcome event for Milley. "Why do you bring people like that here? No one wants to see that, the wounded," the former president reportedly said. 

But many critics argued that Kelly's statement was too little, too late and condemned him for false and seemingly racially imbued statements made about Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., in 2017. Kelly incorrectly stated that Wilson thwarted the dedication of an FBI building by saying she "called up President [Barack] Obama for the funding," describing her as part of a "long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise." Kelly's comments aligned with a tweet composed by Trump calling Wilson "wacky," emphasizing other instances of hypocrisy.

"About three years too late, General," tweeted attorney Bradley P. Moss.

MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan observed how, though Kelly's statement about Trump was undoubtedly "excoriating," he "happily went to work for Trump after 2016, first at DHS and then at the White House, as chief of staff." In a separate tweet, Hasan wrote, "By the way, has Gen. Kelly apologized yet to Congresswoman Frederica Wilson for lying about her?" 

Sherrilyn Ifill, former president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, called the revelations contained in the statement "horrifying."

"Horrifying. Just horrifying," she wrote on X, formerly Twitter. "In its substance, but also in the decision of Gen. Kelly — having this damning estimation of Trump — to choose to serve as Trump's Homeland Security & then Chief of Staff, and to not have publicly offered this comprehensive assessment before now."

"Can you imagine knowing this abt Trump but giving Rep. Frederica Wilson the 'Ruby Freeman treatment' for daring to call out Trump's awful treatment of the pregnant wife of a soldier slain in Niger?" Ifill continued. "I will not clap for those who participated& knew better."

"I covered a disturbing John Kelly story in 2017 when Kelly attacked Rep. Frederica Wilson," tweeted journalist Victoria Brownworth, "after she helped the widow of Sgt. LaDavid Johnson, a green beret murdered in Niger. Kelly lied about Wilson to support Trump's lie about the widow and refused to apologize."

"Now that Kelly is coming forward to bash Trump over his views of vets, remember when he attacked Rep Frederica Wilson for criticizing Trump's handling of a dead soldier's widow? Kelly called her 'all hat & no cattle,' & misrepresented comments she made. What changed?" questioned The Messenger's Marc Caputo.

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Aggregate Cassidy Hutchinson Donald Trump Frederica Wilson John Kelly Mark Milley Politics