President Donald Trump’s chief of staff distorted the facts when he accused a “selfish” Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson of grandstanding at a building dedication in the memory of two fallen FBI agents in 2015.
John Kelly said she stunned the audience at the somber ceremony by recounting how she had been the driving force behind raising money for the building, the FBI’s South Florida headquarters. But a video of her remarks at the dedication shows she never took credit for getting the government to come up with the money for the project. Indeed, the building was approved several years before she entered Congress.
Instead, she talked about an effort she did lead — to have the building named after the special agents, Ben Grogan and Jerry Dove, who were killed in a 1986 gun battle in Miami.
After the video emerged Friday, the White House tried to amend Kelly’s complaint. Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Kelly was stunned that the Democratic congresswoman talked about “her own actions in Congress” at the event, glossing over his erroneous claim that Wilson had bragged about raising the money. “As General 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.
On Thursday, flush with fury, Kelly spoke about the episode when he challenged Wilson’s criticisms of Trump’s behavior on the phone with a war widow this week. A look at his comments and what the video shows:
KELLY: “And 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, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President 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’d done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.”
THE FACTS: Kelly’s recollection is incorrect. In her nine-minute speech at the April 10, 2015, dedication ceremony, a video of which was found by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Wilson never mentions the building’s financing.
Rather, she recounts how she was asked by the FBI four weeks earlier to expedite a bill through Congress to name the building after Grogan and Dove. She said the process normally takes eight months to a year.
“I went into attack mode,” she said. She said she approached then-Speaker John Boehner, telling him “the FBI needs your help and our country needs your help.” She said Boehner got the bill to the House floor for a vote in two days. She said she then rushed the bill to Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, who got the bill passed by that chamber two days later. President Barack Obama signed the bill three days before the dedication ceremony. The audience responded with loud applause.
“It’s a miracle but it speaks to the respect that our Congress has for the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” she said.
She then asked all first responders to stand so they could receive applause.
Wilson then recited the biographies of agents Grogan and Dove and detailed the gun battle in which they were killed and five other agents wounded.
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