On her fourth day at the center of a struggle with President Donald Trump and his chief of staff, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson said Friday she has no regrets about anything she’s done or said this week — and said she’s amazed at what’s transpired.
Wilson received major vindication Friday with video showing White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was completely wrong about claims he made about the South Florida congresswoman.
In an appearance Thursday at the White House, Kelly delivered a broadside against Wilson, a Democrat who has represented parts of Miami-Dade and South Broward since 2011. Kelly told a story he claimed he witnessed involving her in 2015 — in an attempt to discredit Wilson’s actions this week in her dispute with the president over the way Trump spoke with a constituent of hers, a woman whose husband was one of four soldiers killed in an ambush this month in Niger.
Kelly on Thursday described the 2015 dedication of a new South Florida FBI headquarters in Miramar, which he attended. Kelly, a Marine Corps general at the time, was at the event in his role as the head of the U.S. Southern Command.
Wilson detracted from the event, he said, when she “stood up, and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there and 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 [Barack] Obama, and on that phone call he gave the money — the $20 million — to build the building. And she sat down, and we were stunned. Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.”
Exclusive video from the South Florida Sun Sentinel of the event shows Kelly’s account was not true.
What Wilson did at the dedication was take credit for the fast-track approval of legislation — sought by the FBI — to name the building for FBI agents Benjamin P. Grogan and Jerry L. Dove, who were killed in a 1986 gunfight with two people who had robbed armored trucks and banks and murdered several people.
She also lavished praise on Republican colleagues, including then-House Speaker John Boehner.
On Friday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders maintained the administration’s criticism of Wilson’s remarks at the dedication — even after the Sun Sentinel posted video showing Kelly’s account was inaccurate. Sanders repeated Kelly’s assertion that he was “stunned” that Wilson talked about what she had done in Congress. “As Gen. Kelly pointed out, if you’re able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes about yourself, you’re an empty barrel,” Sanders said in a statement.
More than half of Wilson’s remarks, which last 9 minutes and 15 seconds, were devoted to praising the fallen FBI agents and others who work in law enforcement. “Stand up. We are proud of you. We are proud of their courage.” She spent less than three minutes talking about the path of the naming legislation and about a minute and a half introducing dignitaries at the event.
On Trump’s first full day of office, he visited CIA headquarters and gave a long, campaign-style speech during which he complained about news coverage and bragged about the size of the crowd at his inauguration – in front of the wall of stars representing the 117 CIA agents killed in the line of duty. Sanders said Friday that Wilson’s remarks at the FBI building dedication were somehow different from Trump’s remarks at the CIA headquarters.
Wilson said she was honored to play the role she did, at the request of then FBI Director James Comey, who was also at the dedication.
Sanders dismissed a reporter who wanted to know if Kelly would appear to answer questions about what he said about Wilson. “If you want to get in a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that’s simply highly inappropriate.”
She also suggested Wilson said things on the day of the 2015 building dedication that weren’t part of the formal program. “There was a lot of grandstanding.”
Edmundo “Ed” Mireles Jr., another former agent wounded that day, attended the building dedication. He said he remembers the ceremony, though not Wilson’s exact words. “Everybody I spoke to from the bureau told me that the building could not have been dedicated to Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove without her assistance,” he said. “I do remember her telling her little story and how she went through the process and pushed it through. I didn’t take it as anything other than ‘it was a hard road, I helped and assisted.”