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Top aide defends Trump over widow remarks

White House chief of staff John Kelly listens as US President Donald Trump speaks to the media at the White House.Image copyright EPA
Image caption General Kelly’s son died in Afghanistan in 2010

The White House chief of staff has launched an impassioned attack on a congresswoman who said President Trump made a war widow cry.

General John Kelly said he was “broken-hearted” by the Democrat’s criticism of the president’s condolence call to Sgt La David Johnson’s wife.

Gen Kelly also said he did not receive a call from President Barack Obama when his son died in Afghanistan in 2010.

Sgt Johnson was one of four killed in Niger by Islamist militants this month.

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The chief of staff, a former Marine Corp general, said in the White House briefing room that Florida congresswoman Frederica Wilson was “an empty barrel”.

She said on Wednesday that Mr Trump had told bereaved Myeshia Johnson of her slain husband: “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”

Gen Kelly said he was so “stunned” by the representative’s attack that he spent more than an hour walking among soldiers’ graves at Arlington National Cemetery, just outside Washington.

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Media captionCongresswoman Frederica Wilson: “How insensitive can you be?”

The chief of staff said he had advised the president not to call the loved ones of the four American servicemen killed in Niger, telling him: “There’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families.”

Gen Kelly described such a task as “the most difficult thing you can imagine”.

“There is no perfect way to make that phone call,” he added.

He also discussed the death of his own son, Robert Kelly, a 29-year-old first lieutenant in the Marines who died when he stepped on an Afghan landmine.

Gen Kelly said: “He [President Trump] asked me about previous presidents. And I said, ‘I can tell you that President Obama, who was my commander-in-chief when I was on active duty, did not call my family.’

“That was not a criticism. That was just to simply say, I don’t believe that President Obama called. That’s not a negative thing.

“I don’t believe President Bush called in all cases. I don’t believe any president, particularly when the casualty rates are very, very high, that presidents call.”

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