CNN’s Jake Tapper drove that point home Friday on “The Lead” after journalists challenged White House chief of staff John Kelly’s account of a speech by Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.). Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded: “If you want to go after Gen. Kelly, that is up to you. If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that’s something highly inappropriate.”
Tapper called the comment “perfectly acceptable if you’re the press secretary of a junta.”
Kelly’s account Thursday of Wilson’s 2015 speech at the dedication of an FBI building named for two slain agents was disproved by a video of the event. Kelly had said Wilson boasted about her role in obtaining funds for the building and failed to honor the agents. His criticism of the congresswoman came as he defended Trump’s controversial condolence call to a combat widow earlier in the week, a call that Wilson recounted as “insensitive.”
“There’s a long tradition in this country of questioning generals,” Tapper said on CNN. “You know who has done a lot of questioning of generals? President Trump.”
He then read three Trump tweets, criticizing Gens. Colin Powell, John Allen and Martin Dempsey.
Trump ripped Allen after he endorsed Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention last year.
During his campaign, Trump also boasted, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.” He also said in September 2016 that U.S. generals “have been reduced to rubble. ... They have been reduced to a point where it’s embarrassing to our country.”
An angry Trump this week blasted Wilson’s account of his phone call to Myeshia Johnson in which he offered his condolences for the Oct. 4 death of Army Sgt. La David Johnson in Niger. He said Wilson’s statement that Trump told the widow her husband “knew what he signed up for,” was “totally fabricated” and that he had “proof.”
Though Kelly said Thursday he was “brokenhearted” when he learned that Wilson had listened to the condolence call on speakerphone (Wilson, a Johnson family friend, was with them in a car), he seemed to back her account. “He knew what he was getting into. ... He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war,” Kelly said, referring to Sgt. Johnson. “That’s what the president tried to say to four families the other day.” Johnson’s mother confirmed Wilson’s account of the phone call.