Trump 'didn't even know fallen US soldier's name' when he called grieving widow, congresswoman claims

The President denies his comments were insensitive

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Wednesday 18 October 2017 13:33 BST
Rep. Frederica Wilson: Trump didn't know the name of the fallen serviceman Sgt. David Johnson

Donald Trump has been accused of not knowing the name of a dead solider whose widow he telephoned to console after he was killed in Niger - as a controversy over contact with grieving military families continues to grow.

Mr Trump - who had sparked the furore by claiming he was rare among presidents in calling or writing to the relatives of troops who had lost their lives - the President was also accused of showing "disrespect" by the mother of the dead soldier, Sergeant La David Johnson.

Sgt Johnson was among four Green Berets killed when their patrol was ambushed by Islamist militants. Mr Trump called his widow, Myeshia Johnson, who was travelling with her family to meet her husband’s casket at Miami International Airport.

Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who was accompanying the family, told CNN that during the five-minute conversation, Mr Trump had showed little tact or diplomacy required for such a situation.

“Basically he said, ‘Well I guess he knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurts’,” said Ms Wilson.

“I heard what he said because the phone was on speaker.”

Donald Trump clarifies comments on presidents' policy of talking to bereaved families

On Wednesday morning, Mr Trump hit back at the allegations. “Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad,” he wrote on Twitter.

He did not provide details of what proof he claimed to have, but White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said the president had not taped the conversation. She said several White House staffers were in the room during the call, including Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Sgt Johnson was among four US troops killed in Niger (AP)

Many commentators were reminded of the time Mr Trump suggested he had a recording of a conversation with then FBI Director James Comey, shortly before he he fired him. It transpired there was no such recording.

After Mr Trump said Ms Wilson’s claims were a fabrication, the congresswoman doubled down and provided more information about the call.

“When she hung up the phone she turned to me and said ‘He did not even know his name’,” she said. “That was the worst part. I wanted to speak to him but the Master Sgt would not let me, because I was livid when I heard that.”

She added: “This man is a sick man. He is cold-hearted. He feels no pity or sympathy for anyone. This is a grieving widow, a grieving widow who is six months pregnant. She is only 24 years old and she has two other children.

Ms Huckbee Sanders described Mr Trump’s call as “completely respectful.”

“The hardest job he has is making calls like that,” Ms Huckabee Sanders said. “I think it is appalling what the congresswoman has done” in what she described as "politising" the calls.

At the White House in the afternoon, Mr Trump expanded on his denial.

“I didn’t say what that congresswoman said; didn’t say it all. She knows it,” Mr Trump said when asked about the exchange by a reporter. “I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife who was — sounded like a lovely woman. Did not say what the congresswoman said, and most people aren’t too surprised to hear that.”

However, Sgt. Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told The Washington Post that she was present during the call from the White House on Tuesday to Sgt. Johnson’s widow, Myeshia and stood by Ms Wilson's account of the conversation.

“President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband,” Jones-Johnson said.

Mr Trump was placed at the centre of the storm of controversy after comparing his own record of contacting military families with past presidents.

“If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls,” Mr Trump said on Monday at a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House.

“A lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate.”

Mr Trump’s comments were quickly rejected by former members of staff of Mr Obama and President George W Bush.

“This is an outrageous and disrespectful lie even by Trump standards,” Benjamin Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser to Mr Obama, said on Twitter.

“Also, Obama never attacked a Gold Star family.”

The remarks by Mr Trump have opened the door for other military families to come forward. One father said that Mr Trump offered him money in a call, but allegedly not pay up.

“He said: 'I'm going to write you a cheque out of my personal account for $25,000', and I was just floored,” Chris Baldridge - father of Army Sgt. Dillion Baldridge who was killed in Afghanistan in June - told The Washington Post.

The White House subsequently told the newspaper that the cheque had been sent, saying it was a “generous and sincere gesture”.

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said: "It’s disgusting that the media is taking something that should be recognized as a generous and sincere gesture, made privately by the President, and using it to advance the media’s biased agenda.”

The Pentagon has launched an investigation of the fatal mission in Niger and the ambush by 50 Isis-linked fighters that left four US soldiers dead and two wounded. There have reports the US personnel were lacking in intelligence about the situation on the ground.

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