Oct 20, 2017, 6:14 PM ET

Rep. Wilson alleges White House chief of staff used 'racist term' in criticism


Representative Frederica Wilson alleged that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly employed "a racist term" in his criticism of her actions after she assailed President Donald Trump over his call to the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger.

Kelly, who addressed reporters at the White House press briefing Thursday, rebuked Wilson, D-Fla., for deriding Trump's comments on the condolence call. Without mentioning Wilson by name, Kelly also appeared to attack her for comments he said she made at the opening of a FBI field office in Miami in 2015, which was named for FBI agents killed in the line of duty.

"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," Kelly said Thursday. "We were stunned, stunned that she'd done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned."

The congresswoman responded to Kelly in an interview with CNN Friday morning, taking umbrage at the metaphor Kelly employed in his criticism of her.

"I think that's a racist term too, I'm thinking about that when we looked it up in the dictionary because I had never heard of an empty barrel and I don't like to be dragged into something like that," Wilson told CNN.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders repeated Kelly's "empty barrel" comment to reporters at Friday's press briefing and explained, "If you don't understand that reference I'll put it a little more simply. As we say in the south, all hat, no cattle."

Sanders further pointed to Kelly's military rank as a reason not to question his criticism of the congresswoman after reporters pointed out Friday that video of Wilson's speech at the FBI event obtained by The Sun-Sentinel newspaper appeared to refute Kelly's account.

"If you want to go after General Kelly, that's up to you, but I think if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general I think that's something highly inappropriate," Sanders said.

In her interview with CNN, Wilson called attention to the fact that she wasn't serving when funding for the FBI office was secured.

"I was not even in Congress in 2009. So that's a lie. How dare he? However, I named the building at the behest of Director [James] Comey with the help of Speaker [John] Boehner working across party lines, so he didn't tell the truth and he needs to stop telling lies on me," she responded.

Wilson was in a car with Myeshia Johnson when she received a call from Trump earlier this week about the death of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, in Niger earlier this month. She took issue with what she said Trump told Mrs. Johnson: that her husband "must have known what he signed up for."

Trump later criticized the congresswoman and denied her account of the conversation on Twitter.

Kelly said Trump's comments to Johnson were based on what he was told in 2010 by Gen. Joseph Dunford, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when his son Robert Kelly was killed in combat. Kelly said the president asked him for advice about what to say.

News - Rep. Wilson alleges White House chief of staff used 'racist term' in criticism

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  • Robert Maxwell

    This is a trivial non-argument. Congresswoman Wilson should shut the hell up, and so should Kelly and Trump. These mutual attacks lead nowhere except to further division.

  • anastasiabeaverhousen

    The video didn't "appear" to prove Kelly's remarks about the Congresswoman taking credit for the funding wrong; it DID prove them wrong. Not a matter of opinion, but fact.

    And for Sanders to assert that pointing this out was "inappropriate" because of Kelly's rank is offensive and absurd.

    Kelly seems to have been sucked into the Trumpian tactic of personally attacking critics, with predictable results. Thought he was supposed to be there help prevent this sort of thing?

  • Guest

    Childishness travels from the head down.

  • jetmagnet

    Niger could be the next benghazi. Where was Trump, playing golf are degrading black football players.
    It's seems Trump and his cronies can't come up with answers.

  • jetmagnet

    It seems Kelly has joined the cast of "despicables" He's lowered himself to Trump standards, which is juvenile, and disrespectful. We have a leadership in the WH that disrespects anyone that doesn't agree with them. Their behavior is insulting to the american public, who expect their leaders to act with some dignity, honor and character that portrays decency.
    I can't imagine President Obama calling any republican an empty barrel or names. With all the lies and ugliness the GOP and their racist base attacked President Obama, he never resorted to name calling.
    "When they go low, we go HIGH!"

  • michael

    I hate to say this but Trump is right. Congresswoman Wilson by calling Gen. Kelly a racist helps the Trump's to get elected. Everything in life cannot be racist. I believe its the media that pushed her narrative and ginned up the entire controversy. No one could actually believe Trump called Mrs. Johnson to do anything other than console her. Now all this trashing of Kelly does more harm than good.

  • Guest

    Apparently acting like a child is contagious.

  • jetmagnet

    The point is this administration should be above nasty tweets and name calling. I believe empty barrel was a term used in the civil war when the confederacy gave rifles to blacks with no ammunition.

  • Kobrakai7272

    Look, if you want to get after Trump for waiting a few weeks to even mention Niger and the men who died there or for needing to be prodded by the press to do his job and talk to the families, then, I am totally down with that. It is valid criticism and well-deserved. I don't see how anybody wins by parsing and/or criticizing (or defending for that matter, General Kelly) the contents of his private conversations with the families.

  • AJ

    Hey Dems, keep pulling out these clowns and idiots and Trump has a guaranteed win as well as mid terms.

  • Mike Montella

    where does Gen Kelly "admit that president trump is part of the problem"??

  • Lee Larsen

    How predictable, the race card. Just exactly which dictionary did she find this term "empty barrel" to be racist? I couldn't find it in any of mine that even remotely suggested that.

  • D-Man

    This congress women is embarrassing to the country. This is why nothing can get done in Washington she represents our congress dressed like this. WOW!!!!! Our men and the women of the armed forces should be given the highest honors they represent our country & flag . The families should be taken care of and respected not dragged into a show with a clown wearing a cowboy hate just trying to get attention for herself.

  • WR

    It is sickening that Wilson is now making this up that an 'empty barrel' is 'racist'. Seriously??? Anything to keep her in the spotlight and cause more division. She makes this up as she goes. She likes- to quote her- being a 'rock star'. She doesn't even live in the district of her constituents.

    I am so sick of both sides trying to 'find something' or 'make' something of anything that is said or done. Why didn't she call Trump if she thought he was disrespectful to this widow (the other 3 families said the conversations with them were good) and make a recommendation of how to make things right or do better?? Guess that makes too much sense! Why? This is all about her and getting votes and causing division- and taking away from the 4 heroes who gave their lives!!! When will responsible adults help to end this horrible destructive cycle???

  • Brodsterman

    Only an idiot doesn't know what "empty barrel" means and why it makes loader noise.

  • Terri Smith

    So the president's spokeperson is warning people not to point out when a person with high military rank is lying. The man made up a story and used it to call a congresswoman stupid, and no one should point that out because of the man's military rank. I fear for our country.

  • Roger

    It wasn't a racist term. There was nothing racist about it. Crying racism when it's not diminishes ones own argument.

    It was however a ridiculous childish display that we gave grown accustomed to from this adolescent we call the president and his administration?

    Remember the good old days meaning more than 9 months ago when we had a president that conducted the presidency with class and had respect for the office and America which it served?

  • kritikosman

    Kelly is allowing Trump to tarnish his medals.

  • drathvedar

    Good god!