White House Chief of Staff John Kelly says he won't apologize to Rep. Frederica Wilson, even though he got wrong details about what she said about funding for a FBI field office.
Those comments were part of a vigorous critique of the Florida Democrat after she described President Donald Trump's call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson. Among other things, Kelly blasted Wilson as an "empty barrel."
"Do you feel like you have something to apologize?" Fox News host Laura Ingraham asked Kelly in an interview that aired Monday night.
"Oh, no," Kelly replied. "No. Never. Well, I'll apologize if I need to. But for something like that, absolutely not. I stand by my comments."
The full transcript follows.
INGRAHAM: Let’s move onto the Frederica Wilson issue, when she overheard the conversation —
KELLY: Oh, the congresswoman.
INGRAHAM: Yeah, the congresswoman. She overheard the conversation of a Gold Star widow. And this blew up into a huge controversy. You came out into the pressroom and you gave what was, by all accounts, a riveting account of your reaction to this. At the time you said you were so upset you went to Arlington National Cemetery. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? Why did you go to Arlington and what did you do there and what did you hear?
KELLY: Well you know — I would — of all of the — I was stunned, Laura. Of all of the things I thought — that were left, in terms of things that we hold up as special in our country, and most of them have gone by the wayside. I think I mentioned some of them, to include our flag and our anthem; those are all passé, I guess. But the one thing I thought was sacrificed, the ultimate sacrifice of the nation and the families that they’re that hurt — and to have — seen the president make a phone and do the best he could, standing right next to him — that she wasn’t on speakerphone.
But to hear him talk to four next of kin that day and essentially the message was the same and he did the best he could to make it personal and the best he could to make them understand how sorry he was as the president and as a father himself. And then to see what came of that, just was stunning to me. You know, I made reference to an appearance that the congresswoman made. You know —
KELLY: Yeah. And you know, a number of people that were there after she said what she said about me were — volunteered to come forward because they saw her both before and after her official comments. I said, “No, let’s not do this,” these are FBI agents, former FBI agents that were there. That part of it we should let go. What did I hear over in Arlington Cemetery? Some of the stones over there represent young people that I sent out into battle and they died. Not to make it more melodramatic than it is. But — my wondering was, is this, is any of this worth it anymore?
INGRAHAM: Meaning working in the White House? Like what you were dealing with.
KELLY: Or doing anything for — you know, is it worth it anymore, if they can, if someone can make political hay out of something that the president was trying to do? And of course, the screams — and a lot of people, a lot of reviewers will laugh at this, I’m sure, but the screams out of the graves was, you know, what are you talking about, Kelly? You know. You’ve got it easy. Look where we are. It’s worth it. It’s worth it to fight for America and the good news is, I think, outside of this cesspool, a swamp or whatever it’s called, we’re Americans that are just doing the best they can, working hard, raising their family, paying their taxes, hoping to send their kids off to college someday. That’s — that makes it all worthwhile.
But it was absolutely depressing to me to see how that was — turned into a political event. I just don’t know how anyone could possibly criticize another human being for doing the best he or she could do to express sorrow from the bottom of their hearts. I just, it was stunning to me.
INGRAHAM: LaDavid Johnson’s widow had given an interview on television after your remarks and said that what Frederica Wilson said was actually right. She basically corroborated what the congresswoman recounted about the conversation. So that was her reaction. There’s also comments that Frederica Wilson, in her speech, did not brag about getting funding, as you indicated in your remarks. I actually watched Frederica Wilson’s speech and she certainly used the word “I” a lot in talking about how — and I think we actually have a clip of it.
KELLY: Well, I’ll go back and talk about before her comments and at the reception afterwards. Again, it was a package deal. Don’t want to get into it. As far as the young widow goes — she has every right to say what she wants to say. But it’s the politicization of something that was so from the heart.
INGRAHAM: But do you feel like you have something to apologize?
KELLY: Do I?
KELLY: Oh, no. No. Never. Well, I’ll apologize if I need to. But for something like that, absolutely not. I stand by my comments.
INGRAHAM: Washington —
KELLY: But I’d just as soon let that go.