The mother of a soldier killed in an ambush in Africa said Wednesday that President Trump “did disrespect my son” with remarks in a condolence telephone call.
Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told The Washington Post that she was present during the call from the White House on Tuesday to Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson. She also stood by an account of the call from Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) that Trump told Myeshia Johnson that her husband “must have known what he signed up for.”
“President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband,” Jones-Johnson said.
Trump lashed back at Wilson. He denied her account in a Twitter message Wednesday. He said he had “proof” that the exchange did not go as Wilson had described. Trump did not elaborate, but White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders 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 F. Kelly.
Sanders described Trump’s call as “completely respectful.”
“The hardest job he has is making calls like that,” Sanders said. “I think it is appalling what the congresswoman has done” in “politicizing” Trump’s condolence calls.
Later Wednesday, Trump expanded on his denial.
“I didn’t say what that congresswoman said; didn’t say it all. She knows it,” 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.”
Trump spoke at a meeting at the White House with members of the Senate Finance Committee.
Wilson had said that the Johnson family was “astonished” by Trump’s remarks during the call, which Wilson said she heard via a speakerphone while riding in a limousine with the Johnson family. “She was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part.” Wilson told MSNBC on Wednesday that Johnson’s widow was shaken by the exchange.
Wilson went on to say Trump “was almost like joking. He said, ‘Well, I guess you knew’ — something to the effect that ‘he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway.’ You know, just matter-of-factly, that this is what happens, anyone who is signing up for military duty is signing up to die. That’s the way we interpreted it. It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy, unnecessary. I was livid.”
“She was in tears. She was in tears. And she said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ ”
On Tuesday, Wilson told The Washington Post that Trump had told Johnson’s widow, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”
“He made her cry,” Wilson said.
Jones-Johnson, speaking to The Post via Facebook Messenger, declined to elaborate.
But asked whether Wilson’s account of the conversation between Trump and the family was accurate, she replied: “Yes.”
The White House did not confirm or deny Wilson’s account on Tuesday.
“The President’s conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private,” a White House official said in a statement.
The White House said Tuesday that Trump had placed calls that day to the families of all four service members killed in Niger on Oct. 4. The calls followed Trump’s claims Monday and Tuesday that his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, had not often made such calls to families. Former Obama administration officials strongly dispute that claim, saying Obama engaged families of fallen service members in various ways throughout his presidency.
Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Fla., was found dead after initially being reported as missing after the attack.
He was a driver assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) based in Fort Bragg, N.C.
Johnson's biological mother, Samara, died when he was a child. Cowanda Jones-Johnson and her husband, Richard, were entrusted with his care after his mother's death, according to the slain soldier's obituary. The obituary lists his parents as Samara Johnson and Richard and Cowanda Johnson.
Staff Sgt. Dennis Bohler, who said he was Johnson's close friend and former supervisor at Fort Bragg, told The Post that Jones-Johnson is La David's aunt and raised him as her own son.
"He's very thankful for having somebody like his mom, Cowanda, in his life," Bohler said Wednesday. "She raised him. She wasn't really his mom, but you couldn't tell."
John Wagner and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.