WASHINGTON — A day after calling the families of four soldiers killed in Niger earlier this month to offer his condolences, President Donald Trump denied accusations from a Florida congresswoman that he callously told one widow that her dead husband “knew what he signed up for.”
The twist is the latest in a days-long controversy over Trump’s response to the military deaths, many details of which are still unclear. The four soldiers were conducting training missions in Niger when they were ambushed. Three were killed in the immediate firefight. The body of the fourth, Sgt. La David Johnson, wasn’t found until two days later.
On Monday, during a White House press conference 12 days after the ambush, Trump dismissed questions that he had waited too long to address the deaths.
He said he planned to call the grieving families, then accused former President Barack Obama and other previous commanders in chief of not regularly doing that. Former Obama staffers have called that statement a blatant lie.
On Tuesday, Trump called the four deceased soldiers’ families, including Johnson’s widow, Myeshia. A White House statement on the calls said the president “offered condolences on behalf of a grateful nation and assured them their family’s extraordinary sacrifice to the country will never be forgotten.”
But Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., was traveling with Johnson’s family, said she listened to the call on a speakerphone and was horrified when she said Trump stated that the fallen soldier “knew what he was signing up for ... but when it happens, it hurts anyway.”
On CNN Wednesday morning, she called Trump “a sick man” who is “cold-hearted and feels no pity or sympathy for anyone.” She also said Trump did not appear to know the name of the fallen soldier.
Trump refuted Wilson’s account of the call in a tweet Wednesday morning, saying she “totally fabricated what I said.”
Wilson said she has additional witnesses who heard the call and the inappropriate statements. On Wednesday, Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told The Washington Post that Trump “did disrespect my son and my daughter, and also me and my husband.”
Critics of Trump called the ongoing condolences scandal another sign of ignorance and incompetence by the commander in chief.
During last year’s presidential campaign, Trump drew similar criticism for his handling of Khizr Khan, a Gold Star father who spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Trump attacked Khan for spreading “inaccuracies” about his qualifications to be president and implied that he may have forced his wife into silence under Muslim law.
Trump also was condemned during the campaign for ridiculing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for serving as a prisoner of war during fighting in Vietnam, saying “I like people who weren’t captured.”
Johnson is survived by two young children and his wife, who is expecting their third child in January.