October 20, 2017–John F. Kelly’s tears are real in one sense, but they are also those of a crocodile. Kelly lost a son in the current wars and remained notably reluctant to talk about it–until President Donald J. Trump dragged his chief of staff into yet another of those contrived public squabbles that have become the mainstay of his presidency. Suddenly Kelly is on the White House podium, asserting that President Barack Obama never telephoned him to express the nation’s regrets, extoll Mr. Trump, and condemn Representative Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL) as being “that empty a barrel” as to think a president’s words worth repeating to the public, indeed for sitting in on Trump’s conversation with Myeshia Johnson (whose Ranger husband, Sergeant La David T. Johnson, had been killed in an ambush in Niger), and for breaking the “confidentiality” of the president’s words. Make no mistake about it–this was a political attack.
First off, General Kelly–for he is a general–as a military officer is responsible to civilian control of the armed forces. Congresswoman Wilson represents that civilian control. Kelly multiplied his disrespect in calling her an “empty barrel.” Representative Wilson faced a segment of the American people to be elected. John Kelly has no constituency beyond five officers on a promotion board.
Second, the congresswoman was riding in a car with Mrs Johnson when the president phoned up. The fact Wilson was present when Mr. Trump called had nothing to do with her. Plus Kelly was present with the president when this conversation took place. If it was wrong for Representative Wilson to be there, what do you say for General Kelly?
Third, there was no breach in repeating the president’s words. That is made up from whole cloth. Mr. Trump’s conversations are not–and have never been–secret just because he participated in them. That is the same spurious claim Trump is trying to make for his firing of FBI director James Comey, and identical to the ridiculous position Attorney General Jeff Sessions took at an oversight hearing yesterday. The business of government will grind to a halt if this attitude toward information continues. The president’s words are secret–classified or more–when he speaks of specific national security subjects in council. The secrecy depends on the information, not who said it. The Trump White House’s effort to cloak every aspect of its operations in secrecy will, without doubt, lead to deeper abuses.
All of this was by way of defending Mr. Trump for yet another disastrous performance. He said nothing about the soldiers lost in this African ambush for nearly two weeks. Questioned about it, Trump suggested he had already talked to the families of the deceased–when he had not–and drew a contrast with previous presidents, who he asserted had never done so, then asserted they had rarely done so, then that they may or may not have done so and he was saying only what people had told him. After that is when he got around to calling poor Mrs Johnson, whose name he did not know, nor the name of her husband the soldier man–and his remorse is to say that Sergeant Johnson had known what he was signing up for. That is what John Kelly is defending, and he is doing it by attacking a member of a co-equal branch of government.
On several occasions here we have explored how General H. R. McMaster, who accused the military under a previous president for dereliction of duty–in the United States military a court martial offense–is doing the same thing as Donald Trump’s national security adviser. John Kelly has now joined this crew. These men seem to have forgotten their oath is sworn to the Constitution, not to a man (Trump himself seems equally unaware of this). They function as enablers. You would be right to have a bad feeling about this.