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Frederica Wilson Still Waiting for Apology From John Kelly

Democratic congresswoman still contends chief of staff’s ‘empty barrel’ insult had racial connotations

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., is still waiting for an apology from soon-to-be-former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., is still waiting for an apology from soon-to-be-former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

With the news that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will leave his post at the end of the year, his false statements about Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson have drawn renewed outrage. But Kelly has had no change of heart.

The 24th District Democrat confirmed to McClatchy Monday that she has heard “not a word” from Kelly — despite fresh calls for him to apologize from Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

Last year Kelly incorrectly said that Wilson derailed the dedication of a Federal Bureau of Investigation building to brag about having “called up President [Barack] Obama for the funding,” characterizing her as part of a “long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise.” A video of the event proved that claim to be false.

Wilson said that Kelly’s “empty barrel” insult had racial connotations. Sociologists have described the treatment of Wilson by the White House — namely President Donald Trump’s tweet ridiculing her as “wacky” — as out of a historic playbook characterizing people of color and black professionals as unfit.

In October, Trump and Kelly sought to undercut Wilson after she criticized Trump’s comments in a call to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of an Army sergeant killed in an ambush in Niger. Wilson overheard a call in which Trump told Myeshia Johnson that the sergeant “knew what he signed up for.”

Kelly’s claim inflamed supporters of the president. Wilson became the target of death threats, including threats of lynching and nooses through the mail. The threats became so severe that she could not cast votes.

Still, Kelly has stood by his comments.

Days after video footage disproved his account of Wilson’s behavior, in an interview with Fox News’ “Ingraham Angle,” host Laura Ingraham asked if the chief of staff if he felt he had a reason to apologize, to which Kelly responded “No. Never.”

“I’ll apologize if I need to, but for something like this, absolutely not,” he said.

Wilson said that comes as no surprise to her.

“I think he made it very clear when he was asked by the media over and over and he said that he would never apologize,” she told McClatchy.

She said her opinion of Kelly has only sunk lower since their feud has simmered, and takes issue with his reputation in the media as a decorated general who tempers the president’s impulses. In particular, she cited his description of Dreamers as “lazy” and his defense of former White House aide Rob Porter from allegations of spousal abuse.

“It started with me, but there were so many other instances where he was not this man… that everyone expected him to be,” she said. “He lost all of his stars, all four stars through many more instances that involved racism, misogyny and immigration. General Kelly needs counseling from a pastor or someone who can help him ask for forgiveness from the nation for all of his insults.”

Ocasio-Cortez attributed Kelly’s failure to apologize to cowardice in a tweet Monday.

“John Kelly was straight up exposed for lying about @RepWilson in comments aimed at discrediting her,” she wrote. “He absolutely owes her an apology, and his refusal to do so isn’t a sign of strength — it’s cowardice.”

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