Trump denies telling widow of fallen soldier, 'He knew what he signed up for'

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

President Donald Trump today denied telling the widow of a fallen U.S. soldier, "He knew what he signed up for," in a phone call he made Tuesday, contradicting a Florida congresswoman who said she was with the woman at the time.

Rep. Frederica Wilson said she was with Myeshia Johnson in a car headed to Miami International Airport on Tuesday afternoon to meet the body of Johnson's husband, Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who died in Niger this month, when the president called.

In an interview with CNN on Tuesday night, Wilson, a Democrat, relayed Myeshia Johnson's conversation with Trump, saying, "Basically, he said, 'Well, I guess he knew what he signed up for. But I guess it still hurt.' That's what he said."

Trump denied Wilson's claim and said he had a "very nice conversation" with Johnson, "who sounded like a lovely woman."

"I didn't say what that congresswoman said, and she knows it," Trump told reporters today at the White House. "I didn't say it at all."

Trump also tweeted this morning, "Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof)."

When asked about his claim of "proof" that disputes Wilson's account, the president said today from the Oval Office, "Let her make her statement again and then you'll find out."

Wilson responded earlier today to Trump's tweet, calling him a "sick man" and saying she has her own proof in an interview with CNN.

In an appearance on ABC News' "The View" Wednesday, Wilson elaborated on her reaction, saying she wanted to confront the president and "cuss him out."

As for Johnson's reaction, Wilson said, "She was crumbled up in a ball.... She had just found out that her husband would not be able to have an open-casket funeral because of the condition of the body. So she was grief-stricken.

"She said he doesn't even know his name," Wilson said of the widow.

Sgt. Johnson's mother told The Washington Post that Wilson's remarks are "accurate."

Despite the president's pushback, Wilson is standing by her remarks.

Asked by ABC Miami affiliate WPLG-TV whether she was sure about what she heard Trump say, Wilson responded, "Yeah, he said that. To me, that is something that you can say in a conversation, but you shouldn't say that to a grieving widow. And everyone knows when you go to war, you could possibly not come back alive. But you don't remind a grieving widow of that. That's so insensitive."

Sgt. Johnson, three other American soldiers and five Nigerien troops died in Niger on Oct. 4, when their joint patrol was ambushed by militants believed to be linked to ISIS. His widow, who is pregnant, broke down in tears hugging his casket Tuesday as it was unloaded from the airplane.

Wilson told WPLG, "Now, I didn't hear the entire conversation, but when I tried to find out what the entire conversation was, she said, 'I just can't remember everything that he said.' But that stood out in everyone's, uh, heart on the call. You don't say that. He is the president of the United States.

"This is a soldier who gave his life for his country. He is a hero in our minds, in our community's minds. That is an insult to the entire Miami Gardens community, to our entire District 24, to Miami-Dade County and to this nation. And I hope he did not say that to the other three families that he called," she added.

The full content of Trump's comment as described by Wilson is unknown.

The White House has declined to comment on the remarks that are being attributed to him.

"The president's conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private," a White House official told ABC News on Tuesday night.

The controversy comes just a day after Trump said that former President Barack Obama did not always call to the families of fallen troops.

Asked why he hadn't contacted to the families of the Americans killed in the Nigerien attack, Trump said at a news conference Monday, "If you look at President [Barack] Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls. I like to call when it's appropriate, when I think I am able to do it. They have made the ultimate sacrifice. So generally, I would say that I like to call. I'm going to be calling them. I want a little time to pass. I'm going to be calling them."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., defended Obama Wednesday, telling ABC News: "What I'm not comfortable with is suggesting in any fashion that President Obama didn't care about fallen soldiers. I don't think that's appropriate, and I'm sure he did care. I don't know who he called, I don't know who he didn't call, but I know that President Obama, like every other president, is heartbroken when someone falls in the service of the country."

Trump made calls to family members of the four killed U.S. servicemen on Tuesday.

Wilson insisted she was not politicizing anything by sharing what she heard of the phone call.

"Mr. Trump was extremely insensitive to that family, and I will stick by that. I'm not trying to politicize it, but I think it was a disgrace," she told MSNBC Wednesday.

Sgt. Johnson enlisted in the Army in January 2014 as a wheeled-vehicle mechanic and was assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group, a Green Beret unit based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as part of its support team.

The military says his body was found Friday after an extensive search; his body was initially listed as missing.

The bodies of the three other U.S. soldiers were recovered shortly after the attack. The U.S. and Niger forces were leaving a meeting with tribal leaders when they were ambushed.

The Johnsons have a 2-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, and Myeshia Johnson is expecting their third child in January.

ABC News' Karen Travers contributed to this report.

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