President Trump says he was “so nice” in his condolence call to the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson — and refuted the account from Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., who said he did not appear to know the slain soldier’s name.
“I was so nice. Look, I’ve called many people. And I would think that every one of them appreciated it,” Trump told Maria Bartiromo in an interview that aired on Fox News on Sunday. “I was very surprised to see this, to be honest with you. And by the way, I spoke of the name of the young man, and it was a really — it’s a very tough call. Those are the toughest calls.”
“These are tougher than dealing with the heads of countries, believe me,” the president added. “These are very, very hard calls. They’re sad, and sometimes, you know, the grieving is so incredible.”
The call with Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, occurred Tuesday afternoon, when Trump spoke on the phone with the families of four Green Berets 12 days after they were killed in an ambush in Niger.
Wilson, who was in a car with Johnson when Trump spoke with her, said the president told the grieving mother of two that the 25-year-old soldier “knew what he signed up for.”
“But when it happens, it hurts anyway,” Trump added, according to Wilson.
“How could you say that to a grieving widow?” Wilson told a Miami television station shortly after the call. “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.”
Wilson said that after the call ended, Johnson told her that Trump “didn’t even know his name.”
Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told the Washington Post that the Florida congresswoman’s account was accurate.
“President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband,” Jones-Johnson said.
Wilson’s account of the call sparked a days-long controversy over the Trump administration’s handling of condolence calls — and a debate over the president’s relationship with Gold Star families.
At a White House briefing on Thursday, chief of staff John Kelly delivered an impassioned defense of Trump’s outreach to those families and denounced Wilson’s criticism as “selfish.”
“He was so offended, because he was in the room when I made the call, and so were other people,” Trump told Bartiromo. “And the call was a very nice call. He was so offended that a woman would be — that somebody would be listening to that call. He was — he actually couldn’t believe it. Actually, he said to me, ‘Sir, this is not acceptable. This is really not.’”
Trump’s response to the soldiers’ deaths had already come under intense scrutiny following a Rose Garden press conference during which he 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 told reporters on Monday. “I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it.”
In a Fox News Radio interview Tuesday, Trump refused to clarify the remarks — and invoked Kelly’s dead son, who died while serving in Afghanistan in 2010, in the process.
“There’s nothing to clarify,” Trump said. “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.”
Kelly said that Obama did not call him when his son was killed but stressed it was “not a criticism” of the former president.
“I appeal to America,” Kelly said. “Let’s not let this, maybe, last thing that’s held sacred in our society: a young man, young woman going out and giving his or her life for our country. Let’s try to somehow keep that sacred.”
Trump, though, does not appear ready to let his feud with Wilson over a U.S. soldier’s death go.
“Wacky Congresswoman Wilson is the gift that keeps on giving for the Republican Party, a disaster for Dems,” the president tweeted on Sunday morning. “You watch her in action & vote R!”
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