By THE EDITORIAL BOARD– The New York Times
John Kelly, President Trump’s chief of staff, is grimly suited to addressing the family of a fallen service member. Mr. Kelly, a retired four-star general, is the highest-ranking officer to lose a child in Iraq or Afghanistan. His son Second Lt. Robert Kelly was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.
After more than 40 years with the Marines, Mr. Kelly possesses the gravitas and credibility on matters of military and public service that his boss does not. Which is perhaps why Mr. Trump consulted him for advice on how best to console Myeshia Johnson after her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, was killed under still-unexplained circumstances in Niger.
Representative Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat and family friend, said Mr. Trump had upset Ms. Johnson by seeming to forget her husband’s name and by saying, in effect, that Sergeant Johnson knew what he was signing up for. Mr. Trump responded by attacking the congresswoman and insulting the family, insisting he’d said the right thing.
Mr. Kelly then weighed in at a media briefing on Thursday. One might have expected him to bring some dignity to this agonizing and confounding episode, putting things right with remarks chosen with the care for which he is known among his fellow service members. But after a passionate and moving recounting of Gold Star families’ trauma, he instead waded waist-deep into the morass Mr. Trump had created, insulting Ms. Wilson by accusing her of taking credit in 2015 for securing funding for a federal building in Miami named for two slain F.B.I. agents. He said she “stood up there and 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.”
Maybe he simply misremembered what happened that day; we all make mistakes. But a video of the event subsequently showed that Ms. Wilson had made none of the string of boasts that Mr. Kelly put in her mouth.
Did Mr. Kelly quickly acknowledge his errors? No. Instead, in the days since, he and the White House have added to his mistakes by refusing to correct them. All evidence to the contrary, they have continued to insist on Mr. Kelly’s false version, compounding the grief of the Johnson family, who laid Sergeant Johnson to rest on Saturday.
On Thursday, Mr. Kelly said that he was speaking up to defend “this maybe last thing that’s held sacred in our society” — the sacrifice of an American soldier’s life on the battlefield. This nation is in crying need of a demonstration of virtue in public life, and Mr. Kelly seemed until now like a man for the job. But he is not honoring Sergeant Johnson’s sacrifice by insisting on falsehoods and stretching out this sordid spectacle.