THE MORNING PLUM:
President Trump appears unable to resist getting drawn into public battles involving figures who are far more vulnerable and sympathetic than he is, and true to form, he just used his formidable Twitter feed to escalate the battle over a call to a war widow in which he is alleged to have been insensitive. Trump tweeted early Wednesday morning that the witness to the call had “totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!”
But in an interview with me this morning, the witness, Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.), stood by her story and denounced Trump as a “liar” and “crazy.” But perhaps even more interesting, she shared some new details that will thicken this plot: She said there were other witnesses in the car and also noted that she has known the slain soldier for a long time and “mentored” him.
The slain soldier, Sgt. La David T. Johnson, was one of four soldiers gunned down on the border of Niger and Mali on Oct. 4. Their fate has gotten tangled in a political battle that picked up steam when Trump, questioned several days ago as to why he hadn’t commented on their deaths, falsely suggested that President Barack Obama hadn’t called the families of deceased soldiers. Trump continued stoking this story by instructing the media to ask Chief of Staff John F. Kelly if Obama had called him upon the death of his son in combat.
Last night the news broke that Trump had told Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.” This was according to Wilson, who late yesterday told The Post that she had overheard the call on a speakerphone while riding in a limousine with Johnson when Trump called, and that this exchange made the widow cry. This is what Trump claims was “fabricated,” which now has reporters speculating that Trump may have a recording or an official transcript.
But Wilson said in our interview she is sticking by the story, and she asserted that there were other witnesses in the car, including the driver and the aunt and uncle of the deceased soldier. “I was not the only one in the car,” she said.
“Mr. Trump is crazy,” Wilson told me. “He’s a liar. He’s proven to be a liar.” She said she was more “concerned about the circumstances around his death” than about what Trump said.
When I pressed Wilson on whether she was sticking by her account that she heard Trump say, “he knew what he was signing up for,” she said “yes.” When I reiterated that Trump claims to have proof otherwise, she said, “How about you go get that proof and call me back?”
Wilson said that the widow had been informed that her slain husband will have a closed-casket funeral. “I want to know why he can’t have an open casket,” Wilson said. “They told us no, because of the condition of the body.” She said that the widow was “distraught” over this, adding: “When don’t you have an open casket? When the face or the head is disfigured, right?”
Wilson said she had known the slain solder for a long time, noting that he had passed through the mentoring program for boys of color she founded in Miami in 1993. It’s called the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project. She said she had “practically raised” him. She added that there is also a scholarship fund bearing his name.
Hopefully we will soon find out whether Trump has the proof he claims to of what was said on the call, and hopefully that can be settled. Either way, it appears that this story is likely to escalate, now that it appears that Wilson had her own relationship with the dead young man, which will perhaps complicate any further criticism of her by Trump. And now that we know there were others in the car, they may be sought out.
When I asked Wilson if she would be making the aunt and uncle available for comment, she said: “I don’t think they have that kind of strength.”
* TRUMP MAY BE BACKING AWAY FROM DEAL ON OBAMACARE: Also from the presidential Twitter feed this morning:
I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co's who have made a fortune w/ O'Care.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2017
Yesterday, Trump sounded open to the bipartisan deal reached to shore up the exchanges. But it appears that if he had any inclination toward doing something constructive that avoids hurting people, he quickly thought the better of it.
* GOP SENATOR: WE DON’T BENEFIT FROM HEALTH-CARE ‘CHAOS’: This quote, from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), about the short-term deal he negotiated to stabilize the Obamacare marketplaces and continue the cost-sharing subsidies, is worth saving:
“In my view, this agreement avoids chaos,” Mr. Alexander said, “and I don’t know a Democrat or a Republican who benefits from chaos.”
Unfortunately, one Republican — Trump — may disagree with this. But it’s good to have it on record that this is what Trump and Republicans will be embracing if they don’t bless the deal.
* TRUMP WANTED DEAL, BUT SENT CONTRADICTORY MESSAGES: In this remarkable passage, Bloomberg reports that Sen. Alexander told reporters that Trump privately urged him to reach a deal, but …
Alexander said Trump pushed him in phone calls last week to reach a short-term deal to stabilize the Obamacare exchanges. But the president also gloated on Oct. 14 after shares of health insurers fell following his order to end payments to help cover the cost of policies for low-income consumers.
Trump wants to be seen signing a deal, because he’s an awesome dealmaker, but he also loves destroying things, like a toddler knocking over blocks. Dilemmas, dilemmas …
* A DEAD HEAT IN ALABAMA? A new Fox News poll of the Alabama Senate race finds Democrat Doug Jones deadlocked with Republican religious right extremist Roy Moore, at 42 percent apiece. Some details:
The poll … shows 42 percent of Moore’s supporters have some reservations about their candidate. For Jones, that number is 28 percent. Plus, 21 percent of those in the Jones camp say they’re voting against Moore as opposed to for Jones. … About 1 in 10 Trump voters defects to the Democratic candidate (11 percent). That’s nearly three times the number of Clinton voters who are supporting Moore (4 percent).
All this shows that Moore’s extremism might be a genuine weakness. The polling averages put Moore up by 4.4 points, which is remarkably close in a state Trump won by 28 points.
* MAJORITY OPPOSES TRUMP TAX PLAN: A new CNN poll finds that 52 percent of Americans oppose Trump’s tax-reform plan, while only 34 percent support it. But Republicans love it:
Support is split largely along party lines: eight-in-10 Democrats (81%) say they oppose the plans, but seven-in-10 Republicans (70%) say they support them. Independents break against the proposals: 50% opposed to 35% in favor.
The wording only describes the plan as “tax reform proposals made by the Trump administration.” One wonders how GOP voters would react if told the benefits go overwhelmingly to the top.
* BANNON BACKS TAX CUTS FOR RICH: The Hill quotes a senior adviser to former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon clarifying that he supports the tax-reform plan being pushed by Trump and congressional Republicans. The adviser notes that Bannon’s primary challenges will actually make GOP senators more likely to back that plan, to prove that they’re with Trump.
So Bannon backs the enormous tax cuts for the rich that Trump, the GOP establishment and the Koch brothers want. Can we stop saying that Bannon’s challengers are running on some species of economic populist Trumpism that is different from GOP orthodoxy now?
* AND DEMOCRATS PLAN TO WEAPONIZE GOP’S OWN WORDS: McClatchy reports that Democrats are busy collecting the quotes of Republicans to use in the midterm elections, and those quotes serve as ammo for their broader strategy:
Donald Trump’s Obamacare repeal approach may hurt “vulnerable people.” The Republican Party will “own” the health-care fallout. The GOP-controlled Senate is “not getting the job done.” … Democrats have already begun plotting campaign messaging and ad spending … The aim, in part, is to paint a broad picture of a majority party in disarray, drawing on Congress’s failure to land big legislative accomplishments and the series of public spats between Trump and senior lawmakers.
All this is a remarkable turnabout from the last two midterm elections, in which Republicans were on offense and Democrats were on defense … on health care.