White House defends Kelly’s defense of Trump

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) speaks about the death of Sgt. La David Johnson before attending a Congressional field hearing on nursing home preparedness and disaster response, in this October 19, 2017 photo, in Miami, Florida. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2017
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White House defends Kelly’s defense of Trump

WASHINGTON: The White House is defending President Donald Trump’s chief of staff after he mischaracterized previous remarks of a Democratic congresswoman who is now criticizing Trump’s condolence call to the widow of a soldier killed in Niger.
John Kelly on Thursday derided Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida on Thursday as an “empty barrel,” saying she had delivered a speech at an FBI field office dedication in which she “talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building.”
Video of the speech obtained by South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel shows Wilson never mentioned the building’s funding but did recount her efforts to name the building after two special agents who had been killed.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “If you’re able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes about yourself, you’re an empty barrel.” She also used a dismissive Southwest rancher’s term, calling Wilson, who often wears elaborate hats, “all hat and no cattle.”
Sanders also suggested that reporters should let the matter drop and should not be challenging Kelly, a retired three-star Marine general.
“If you want to go after General Kelly, if you want to go after a four-star Marine General, that’s highly inappropriate,” she said.
The fight over Trump’s displays of compassion for America’s war dead sped ahead Friday, a day after Kelly made an emotional call for an end to politicizing the “sacred” matter of how a nation consoles the families of slain soldiers. Trump himself had called Rep. Wilson “wacky” in a late night tweet.
Kelly, a retired three-star general whose son was killed while serving in Afghanistan, criticized Wilson during a dramatic White House appearance Thursday. Wilson suggested that it was the White House, and not her, that was adding to a grieving family’s anguish.
“You know, I feel sorry for General Kelly,” she told CNN. “He has my sympathy for the loss of his son. But he can’t just go on TV and lie on me.”
Trump, who told associates he was furious about what he perceived as unfair media coverage of the current phone-call controversy, posted on Twitter late Thursday, adding fuel to the political fire he ignited with his comments on the way his predecessors comforted the next of kin.
“The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson(D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!” the president wrote.
Kelly, who has rarely discussed the 2010 death of his son in public, was taken by surprise when Trump hinted in an interview earlier in the week that President Barack Obama never called to offer Kelly condolences, according to two White House officials not authorized to discuss private conversations.
But that was soon eclipsed by the outrage Kelly expressed over what he believed was Wilson trying to score political points off a tragedy, the officials said. Sanders later deemed it “a personal decision” by Kelly to discuss the matter publicly.
“I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning, and brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing,” Kelly said in the briefing room Thursday. “Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred.”
The remarkable scene underscored Kelly’s singular role as an authoritative adviser and now spokesman for a president who is prone to false claims, exaggerations and misstatements. Kelly, who joined the White House to restore internal order, has increasingly become a public figure himself, employed to project calm and reassurance in times of crisis.
Kelly made clear that he did not hold it against Obama for not calling. And he personally absolved Trump — who has frequently struggled showing empathy — of any blame in his call to the family of Sgt. La David Johnson, a conversation that prompted Wilson to declare that the president had been disrespectful to the grieving family.
In fact, the chief of staff said that when Trump took office, he advised him against making those calls: “I said to him, ‘Sir there’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families.’“
But Trump wanted to make the calls, and asked Kelly for advice on what to say. In response, Kelly told him what General Joseph Dunford, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told him when Robert Kelly was killed. Kelly recalled that Dunford told him his son “was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war.”
Kelly said the Defense Department is investigating the details of the Oct. 4 ambush that killed four American soldiers, including Johnson.
Islamic militants on motorcycles brought rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns, killing the four and wounding others. The attack happened in a remote corner of Niger where Americans and local counterparts had been meeting with community leaders.
Kelly said Thursday that small groups of US military personnel are being sent overseas, including to Niger, to help train local people to fight the IS group “so that we don’t have to send large numbers of troops.” Sanders refused to discuss the details of the operation, including whether Trump authorized it, while it was being investigated.
Kelly’s speech was a rebuke to Wilson, who was in the car with the family of Johnson when Trump called on Tuesday. She said in an interview that Trump had told Johnson’s widow that “you know that this could happen when you signed up for it ... but it still hurts.” Johnson’s aunt, who raised the soldier from a young age, said the family took that remark to be disrespectful.
The call came in as they drove to Miami’s airport to receive the body. At the airport, widow Myeshia Johnson leaned in grief across the flag-draped coffin after a military guard received it.
The White House chief of staff said he was so upset by her criticism of Trump’s call that he went to walk “among the finest men and women on Earth” in a 90-minute visit to nearby Arlington National Cemetery, among the graves of service members, including some who died under his command.


4 dead in Waffle House shooting in southern US state; suspect sought

Updated 4 min 45 sec ago
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4 dead in Waffle House shooting in southern US state; suspect sought

NASHVILLE, US: A nearly naked gunman wearing only a green jacket and brandishing an assault rifle stormed a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville early Sunday, shooting four people to death before a customer rushed him and wrestled the weapon away.
Authorities were searching for the 29-year-old suspect, Travis Reinking, who they said drove to the busy restaurant and killed two people in the parking lot before entering and continuing to fire. When his AR-15 rifle either jammed or the clip was empty, the customer disarmed him in a scuffle.
Four people were also wounded before the gunman fled, throwing off his jacket.
Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said there was no clear motive, though Reinking may have “mental issues.” He may still be armed, Anderson told a mid-afternoon news conference, because he was known to have owned a handgun that authorities have not recovered.
US Secret Service agents arrested Reinking last July for being in a restricted area near the White House, officials said. Special Agent Todd Hudson said Reinking was detained after refusing to leave the restricted area, saying he wanted to meet President Donald Trump.
State police in Illinois, where Reinking lived until last fall, subsequently revoked his state firearms card at the request of the FBI and four guns were then taken from him, including the AR-15 used in Sunday’s shooting as well as a handgun, authorities said.
Sheriff Robert Huston in Tazewell County, Illinois, said deputies allowed Reinking’s father to take possession of the guns on the promise that he would “keep the weapons secure and out of the possession of Travis.” Huston added that, based on past deputies’ encounters with Reinking, “there’s certainly evidence that there’s some sort of mental health issues involved.”
While Huston said it was unclear how Reinking reclaimed the guns, Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron said that his father “has now acknowledged giving them back to his son.”
Phone calls to a number listed for the father, Jeffrey Reinking, went unanswered.
Meanwhile, authorities hailed the customer who intervened to stop a further bloodbath, 29-year-old James Shaw, Jr., as a hero — though the father of a 4-year-old girl demurred and said he was just trying to survive.
One hand bandaged, Shaw told reporters he first thought the gunshots fired around 3:25 a.m. were plates falling from a dishwashing station.
When he realized what was happening, he took cover behind a door as shots shattered windows. The gun either jammed or needed a new clip, and that’s when Shaw said he pounced after making up his mind that “he was going to have to work to kill me.”
Shaw said he was not a religious man, but “for a tenth of a second, something was with me to run through that door and get the gun from him.”
They cursed at each other as they scuffled, Shaw said, and he was able to grab the gun and toss it over a counter. The gunman then ran away into the dark of the working- and middle-class Antioch neighborhood of southeast Nashville.
Authorities said he shed his jacket nearby and police found two AR-15 magazines loaded with bullets in the pockets. He was seen walking, naked, on a road, officials said, but later was spotted wearing pants but no shirt after apparently returning to his apartment.
Another witness, Chuck Cordero, told The Tennessean newspaper he had stopped to get a cup of coffee and was outside the Waffle House when the chaos unfolded.
“He did not say anything,” Cordero said of the gunman, who he described as “all business.”
Cordero said Shaw saved lives. “There was plenty more people in that restaurant,” he said.
The dead were identified as 29-year-old restaurant worker Taurean C. Sanderlin, and restaurant patrons Joe R. Perez, 20, Akilah Dasilva, 23, and Deebony Groves, 21. A police statement said Sanderlin and Perez were killed outside the restaurant, Groves was fatally shot inside, and Dasilva was critically wounded inside and later died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Aaron, the police spokesman, said two of the wounded were being treated for gunshot wounds at the medical center, where spokeswoman Jennifer Wetzel said one was in critical condition and the other was in critical but stable condition.
TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center spokeswoman Katie Radel in Nashville said two people were treated for minor injuries and released.
Aaron said Reinking had been employed in construction and lived near the restaurant, and police used yellow crime scene tape to block public access to an apartment complex about a half-mile from the Waffle House. Reinking is originally from Morton, Illinois.
“This is a very sad day for the Waffle House family,” the company said in a statement on Twitter. “We ask for everyone to keep the victims and their families in their thoughts and prayers.”
Nashville Mayor David Briley described the shooting as “a tragic day” for the city.
“My heart goes out to the families & friends of every person who was killed or wounded,” Briley said in an emailed statement. “I know all of their lives will be forever changed by this devastating crime.”
US Rep. Jim Cooper, whose district includes Nashville, said in an emailed statement that the shooting shows the need for tighter restrictions on “widespread civilian access to military-grade assault weapons.”
Nashville Chief Anderson said there was no Tennessee law that would have barred Reinking from having guns, though weapons could be taken away if the suspect had serious mental health issues. That would require taking him to court and having his rights taken away because of illness, a sometimes lengthy and difficult process, Anderson said.
Police reports filed in Illinois showed past run-ins with authorities there.
In May 2016, Tazewell County deputies were called to a CVS parking lot where Reinking told officers that Taylor Swift was stalking him and hacking his phone, and that his family was also involved, according to a report released Sunday. Reinking agreed to go to a local hospital for an evaluation after repeatedly resisting the request, the report said.
Another report from the sheriff’s office said Reinking barged into a community pool in Tremont, Illinois, last June and jumped into the water wearing a pink woman’s coat over his underwear. Investigators believed he had an AR-15 rifle in his car trunk, but it was never displayed. No charges were filed.