Over the past week, President Donald Trump has accused his predecessors of not caring enough about fallen soldiers and their families, used his own chief of staff’s dead son as a political weapon, brought a Gold Star widow to tears, and repeatedly attacked a congresswoman for speaking out about it.
It was a spectacularly-shambolic week for the White House. And Trump has absolutely no regrets about any of it.
“He loved Kelly’s performance yesterday, and considers the issue won,” a White House official told The Daily Beast on Friday.
Aides and Trump confidants paint a picture of a president who, nearing the end of yet another self-inflicted public-relations fiasco, shows zero remorse, even for dragging chief of staff Kelly—who generally does not like talking publicly about his son, a fallen Marine—into the mess.
“Of course not,” one senior Trump aide simply replied when asked if President Trump had shown any sign of regret over the week’s events. The aide added that Trump himself has said he does not believe he had done anything wrong while noting that Kelly was looking more and more “dispirited” as the week went on.
Events began snowballing earlier in the week, when Trump insisted that, unlike his predecessors, he placed calls to the widows and family members of soldiers killed in action. This was misleading at best and false at worst. But Trump followed suit the next day by telling Fox News that Obama had not called Kelly’s son after his death. After an uproar over the overt politicization of a dead soldier, Kelly came out during a White House press briefing on Thursday to address the matter. He took that opportunity to condemn congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who had been privy to a conversation Trump had had with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, who had died in a special forces operation in Niger early this month. During that conversation, Wilson recounted that Johnson’s widow had broken down in tears over what she felt was the president’s insensitivity to her loss.
Inside the White House, aides have grown calloused to the chaos. That the president managed to turn a simple question over a botched military operation into a week-long feud with a grieving military family, all while sullying his chief of staff’s public image, didn’t register as particularly eventful given the preceding nine months of drama.
Outside of the White House, Trump’s allies were more than happy to come to his aid. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he did not find anything at fault with how the president handled the week. And as for Kelly, he added, “I’ll take [his] word for it.”
When pressed, Gingrich starting telling The Daily Beast how the media was "psychologically sick" for going after Trump on this story and that the “congresswoman…who decided to attack the president” deserved some blame. “The president made the right call,” Gingrich emphasized before knocking the press again for its "pathology of anti-Trumpism," and the “offensive…psychological derangement" and “nitpicking” of “you guys.”
The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment on this story. Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely about the president’s current mindset. But during the White House briefing on Friday afternoon, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made sure to blame “you guys” in “the media” for making this such a big story and controversy in the first place.
Left unmentioned was that her boss started it all. But, to her credit, Trump doesn’t see any culpability for himself either.
According to a Republican source close to the president, the president has, in recent days, been eager to talk about the media, alleged bias, and his political enemies, including Rep. Frederica Wilson when reflecting on the fracas he caused. He wasn’t bothered, for instance, that Kelly was caught in a lie when he accused Wilson of politicizing a memorial event for slain FBI agents during a 2015 unveiling of a building bearing their name. Kelly claimed that Wilson had used the event to promote her work in securing federal funding for the building. But video of the event showed that while Wilson did take credit for legislation naming the building after the fallen FBI agents, she did not mention securing federal funding for the project.
In a statement responding to the video on Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders subtly revised Kelly’s statement in an effort to defend it. “Gen. Kelly said he was ‘stunned’ that Rep. Wilson made comments at a building dedication honoring slain FBI agents about her own actions in Congress,” Sanders said.
At Friday’s White House press briefing, Sanders suggested that it was “highly inappropriate” to question Kelly’s recollection of events, citing his past military history. She also was asked to address a statement from Lara Trump, the president’s daughter in law, who had said in a Friday morning appearance on Fox & Friends that “the transcripts” of the president’s call with Sgt. Johnson’s family vindicated her father’s account.
“There is not a transcript of the call,” Sanders said.