"We in uniform protect the rights of others to criticize us, frankly," ret. Gen. David Petraeus told ABC News "This Week" co-anchor Raddatz in an exclusive interview Sunday. "I think we're all fair game."
Video of Wilson's speech obtained by The Sun-Sentinel newspaper appeared to refute Kelly's account. After a reporter pointed this out to Sanders, the press secretary said, "If you want to go after General Kelly, that's up to you, but I think if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general I think that's something highly inappropriate."
Sanders later sought to clarify her comment, telling ABC News in a statement, "Of course everyone can be questioned, but after witnessing General Kelly's heartfelt and somber account [of his son's death in military combat] we should all be able to agree that impugning his credibility on how best to honor fallen heroes is not appropriate."
"I didn't appreciate it, needless to say," Petraeus said. "But at the end of the day, we are fiercely protective of the rights of ... Americans to express themselves, even if that includes criticizing us."
Asked by Raddatz if Kelly's harsh words about Rep. Wilson were appropriate, Petraeus urged everyone to unite behind Gold Star families and not pull them into political fights.
"It was obviously an unfortunate situation. We need to unite behind our Gold Star families, to embrace them with compassion and support, not to drag them into partisan politics," he said.
Petraeus said he knows Kelly well and believes the White House chief of staff will figure out how to "turn down the volume."
"I have to think that this weekend he's sitting at home or in the White House trying to figure out how to turn down the volume, how to get this behind us, and how to focus on what really is important to the country over all," Petraeus said.