The White House wouldn’t deny on Wednesday that President Trump told the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson that the fallen soldier “knew what he signed up for” — but it was willing to accuse the Florida congresswoman who brought it to America’s attention of politicizing the exchange.
“I think it is appalling what the congresswoman has done and the way that she has politicized this issue,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
“This was a president who loves our country very much, who has the greatest level of respect for men and women in uniform and wanted to call and offer condolences to the family,” she continued. “And I think that to try and create something from that like the congresswoman is doing is frankly appalling and disgusting.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Trump spoke on the phone with Johnson’s pregnant widow, Myeshia Johnson, and the families of the three other Green Berets killed in an ambush in Niger on Oct. 4. According to Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., who was with Johnson at the time of the call, Trump spoke “sarcastically” when he said the 25-year-old soldier “knew what he signed up for.”
“How could you say that to a grieving widow?” Wilson told a Miami television station shortly after their conversation. “And he said it more than once. I said this man has no feelings for anyone. This is a young woman with child who is grieved to her soul.”
Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told the Washington Post that Wilson’s account was accurate.
“President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband,” Jones-Johnson said.
Early Wednesday, Trump disputed Wilson’s account, claiming he had “proof.”
“Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof),” Trump tweeted. “Sad!”
Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2017
Sanders was asked what “proof” Trump had and whether there were recordings of the conversation.
“No, but there were several people in the room from the administration that were on the call, including the chief of staff, John Kelly,” Sanders said. “The president’s call, as recounted by multiple people in the room, believe that the president was completely respectful, very sympathetic and expressed the condolences of himself and the rest of the country. I don’t know how you can take that any other way.”
Trump’s response to the soldiers’ deaths has come under intense scrutiny this week following a Rose Garden press conference in which the president falsely claimed that former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush did not call families of fallen soldiers.
“If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls,” Trump said. “I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it.”
On Tuesday, Trump refused to clarify the remarks — and in the process he invoked White House chief of staff John Kelly’s dead son, who died while serving in Afghanistan in 2010.
“There’s nothing to clarify,” Trump said in a Fox News Radio interview. “I think I’ve called every family of somebody that’s died, and it’s the hardest call to make. And I said it very loud and clear yesterday. The hardest thing for me to do is do that. Now, as far as other representatives, I don’t know. I mean, you could ask Gen. Kelly did he get a call from Obama. You could ask other people. I don’t know what Obama’s policy was. I write letters, and I also call.”
Sanders said that Trump and Kelly had spoken several times since he made those remarks, and that the chief of staff was “disgusted by the way that this has been politicized — and that the focus is on the process and not the fact that American lives were lost.”
“I think he is disgusted and frustrated by that,” Sanders added. “If he has any anger, it is towards that.”
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