President Donald Trump’s insistence that everything about his tenure has been good and truthful and that he is merely the victim of fake news smears has spread through the White House, most recently infecting chief of staff John Kelly.
Earlier this month, Kelly accused Democratic Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson of “grandstanding” at a dedication ceremony for a new FBI building named after two fallen agents.
Video of the speech instead shows Wilson effusively praising the agents and completely contradicts Kelly’s account.
Over the weekend, the women on the Congressional Black Caucus issued a statement demanding Kelly admit he was wrong and apologize for his “blatant lies.”
“General Kelly’s comments are reprehensible. Congresswoman Wilson’s integrity and credibility should not be challenged or undermined by such blatant lies,” they wrote, adding they “demand that General Kelly apologize to her without delay and take responsibility for his reckless and false statements.”
On Tuesday, The New York Times editorial board suggested that it’s possible that Kelly “misremembered what happened that day” but “a video of the event subsequently showed that Ms. Wilson had made none of the string of boasts that Mr. Kelly put in her mouth.”
“Did Mr. Kelly quickly acknowledge his errors? No,” they wrote. “Instead, in the days since, he and the White House have added to his mistakes by refusing to correct them. All evidence to the contrary, they have continued to insist on Mr. Kelly’s false version, compounding the grief of the Johnson family, who laid Sergeant Johnson to rest on Saturday.”
Not only has Kelly not taken responsibility, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has insisted that the video evidence contradicting Kelly does not contradict Kelly.
“I don’t think General Kelly was wrong, and therefore I don’t think he should offer an apology,” she said at a panel at George Washington University Monday.
At a press briefing last week, Sanders claimed there were “other comments” made that were not on the video. When asked about what those specific comments were, Sanders told a reporter it was “inappropriate” to say Kelly was wrong because he is a “four-star Marine general.”
The Washington Post summed up the Trump gameplan succinctly in a piece Monday.
“Trump’s actions [over the last week] have followed a careful formula that he long ago devised for winning a skirmish and that has been described by senior White House advisers: Make it a fight, use controversy to elevate the message and never apologize,” wrote Philip Rucker and Michael Scherer.
That game plan clearly doesn’t end with the president. We saw it infect the press office on day one, when Sean Spicer insisted Trump’s inauguration crowd was the largest ever, period.
Many touted Kelly as the “adult in the room” who would serve as America’s conscience within an otherwise unscrupulous West Wing. Now he’s emulating his boss’s worst tendencies.
“He was supposed to be the ‘Trumpminder,’ but now he acts like Trump,” HBO’s “Real Time” host Bill Maher said about Kelly Friday. “Are you gonna be this guy that everyone says ‘you are a man of unimpeachable integrity’ or you can take political hit shots and be the hatchet man? You can’t do both.”