John Kelly evokes memory of slain son, saying Trump was misunderstood.
At times unable to contain his raw emotion, Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly defended President Donald Trump's handling of a call to the pregnant wife of a slain soldier, recounting the call he received after his son was killed in action.
The president repeatedly told the widow of slain Sgt. La David T. Johnson he knew "what he signed up for" during a telephone call meant to convey his condolences, according to congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who said she was privy to the conversation.
Kelly, who is a Gold Star father and was with Trump when he made the call, said he was "brokenhearted" and "stunned" by Wilson's criticism.
Trump "in his way tried to express that he's a brave man, a fallen hero, he knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted. There's no reason to enlist; he enlisted. And he was exactly where he wanted to be," Kelly said. "That was the message. That was the message that was transmitted."
Kelly's son, Robert, was killed when he stepped on a landmine while deployed to Afghanistan.
Kelly recalled that Gen. Joseph Dunford, who he called his best friend, told him shortly after Robert died "he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into" by joining the military.
Trump also falsely claimed "most" past presidents, including Barack Obama, failed to call the families of slain service members.
"A lot of them didn't make calls," he said Tuesday.
After the presidents suggested reporters ask Kelly if Obama called him after his son died, Kelly said the former president did not, but said "that was not a criticism".
"That's not a negative thing. I don't believe President Bush called in all cases. I don't believe any president, particularly when the casualty rates are very, very high -- that presidents call. But I believe they all write," he added.
Regardless, the call did not sit well with Johnson's family.
His mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told the Washington Post that Trump "did disrespect my son" and she stood by Wilson's account of the call she said she was also a party to.