Myeshia Johnson, the widow of a soldier killed earlier this month in Niger, said Monday that a condolence call from President Donald Trump “made me cry even worse,” prompting Trump to immediately push back against part of her emotional account via Twitter.
“The president said that he knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyways and I was — it made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said it. He couldn’t remember my husband’s name. The only way he remembered my husband’s name was because he told me he had my husband’s report in front of him and that’s when he actually said ‘La David,’” Johnson told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband’s name and that’s what hurt me the most because if my husband is out here fighting for our country, and he risks his life for our country, why can’t you remember his name? And that’s what made me upset and cry even more because my husband was an awesome soldier.”
An hour after Johnson’s ABC interview aired, Trump responded on Twitter to rebut a portion of her account. “I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!” Trump claimed in his online post.
The interview and Trump’s online response to it drags the controversy surrounding the president’s condolence call to Johnson into its second week, prolonging a news cycle that has resurfaced questions about the president’s treatment of Gold Star families. The issue of Trump’s conversation with Johnson has mushroomed just as the White House has sought to focus attention on the president’s proposed tax cuts and reforms and has brought back memories of Trump’s feud with the Gold Star Khan family, who railed against the president at last summer’s Democratic National Convention.
The phone call between Johnson and the president became a point of contention last week when Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), a family friend who was traveling with the widow when she took Trump’s call on speakerphone, told reporters that the president had struggled to remember Army Sgt. La David Johnson’s name and said the slain soldier knew what he signed up for when he enlisted.
As the week wore on, the White House lashed out at Wilson, accusing the hat-wearing congresswoman of being “all hat, no cattle” and suggesting that she had sought to politicize the soldier’s death. Trump himself, in a post to Twitter, wrote that Wilson had “totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!”
The Trump administration’s most powerful defense came last Thursday from White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, who shared with reporters what happens when a service member dies and recalled details from the death of his own son, a Marine who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. Kelly shared the words of condolence that his friend, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, had offered him on his son’s death — that “he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed” — a similar sentiment to what Trump sought to express on his call with Johnson.
Kelly, in his briefing room remarks, also lashed out at Wilson, referring to her as an “empty barrel” as he recalled the 2015 dedication of an FBI office in Miami, where he said the Florida lawmaker inappropriately boasted that she had been instrumental in securing the funding for the facility. But the chief of staff’s criticism was quickly discredited: Wilson had not yet been elected to Congress when the money for the FBI building was appropriated, and video of her remarks from the ceremony shows her celebrating the bipartisan legislation she spearheaded to name the new FBI building after two agents killed in a 1986 firefight, not to secure funding for the building.
The White House stood behind Kelly’s statement and Sanders told reporters Friday that “If you want to go after Gen. Kelly, that’s up to you. But I think that if you want to get into a debate with the four-star Marine general, I think that’s something highly inappropriate.”
Despite the White House’s insistence that Wilson had mischaracterized and fabricated the tenor of Trump’s call, Myeshia Johnson’s account of the conversation aligned with the lawmaker’s account.
“Whatever Ms. Wilson said was not fabricated. What she said was 100 percent correct,” she said, explaining that six people, including Wilson, had heard the call as the family made its way to meet the slain soldier’s remains at Dover Air Force Base. “The phone was on speakerphone. Why would we fabricate something like that?”
The widow said she was left “very, very upset and hurt, very” by the president’s call.
She also said that many of her questions surrounding her husband’s death have not yet been answered by the military and that she has not been allowed to view her husband’s body. She said she has not been told how he was killed or why it took two days from the time La David Johnson’s unit was attacked for the military to recover his body.
“Why couldn’t I see my husband? Every time I asked to see my husband, they wouldn’t let me,” she said. “I need to see him so I will know that that is my husband. I don’t know nothing. They won’t show me a finger, a hand. I know my husband’s body from head to toe, and they won’t let me see anything. I don’t know what’s in that box. It could be empty for all I know, but I need — I need to see my husband.”
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