White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly on Monday called Robert E. Lee “an honorable man” and said that “the lack of an ability to compromise” led to the Civil War, once again thrusting himself into the public spotlight on an emotionally charged issue.
The comments, made on the debut night of conservative media host Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News, came after Kelly was asked about the recent decision by a Virginia church to remove plaques that honored the Confederate general and George Washington.
“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man,” Kelly told Ingraham. “He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”
The comments came in the midst of an interview that touched on a wide range of topics including the indictments in the investigation by special counsel Robert F. Mueller, the United States’ relationship with China and Kelly’s work as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
Long seen as a force of order and discipline in the White House, the retired Marine general became part of the controversy over the president’s calls to Gold Star families this month when he defended Trump’s statements to a widow, made false claims about a Florida congresswoman who had criticized the White House and said he would only take questions from reporters who knew families that had lost service members overseas. He told Ingraham on Monday that he did not believe he had anything to apologize for.