WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump denied Wednesday the account of a Democratic congresswoman that he told the widow of a U.S. serviceman killed in an ambush in Niger that “he knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt.”
“Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!” he tweeted.
He did not immediately provide proof to back the claim.
The response opened a fresh round of controversy over Trump’s response to the Niger attack and how he’s handled the most solemn duty of a commander in chief.
It took Trump days to publicly discuss the attacks, and earlier this week, he falsely claimed that former President Barack Obama didn’t call families of fallen service members, later suggesting reporters contact his chief of staff, John Kelly, whose son was killed in Afghanistan, to ask if Obama reached out to him.
Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., made the stunning claim Tuesday night, saying she was present when the call took place.
Sgt. La David Johnson was among the four U.S. soldiers killed by enemy fire in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger.
“I have proof, too: This man is a sick man,” Wilson said Wednesday morning, responding to Trump’s tweet.
She added that Johnson’s widow “broke down” after her call with Trump, saying the president “didn’t even know his name.”
“I have no reason to lie (to) the President of the United States with a dead soldier in my community. I have no time, I have no motive,” she said, noting she was the elementary school principal of Johnson’s father and mentored the sergeant.
Wilson described herself as “livid” when she heard the call on speakerphone, but when she tried to get the phone to talk to Trump herself, a master sergeant who was present prevented her from doing so.
According to military protocol, the calls from the commander in chief are solely presidential condolence conversations.
Wilson said she was ready to “curse him out” had she had the chance to get on the line. However, Wilson said she wouldn’t get into the specifics of what she would have said, adding that she didn’t want to “politicize” it.
Johnson’s body was returned home to the Miami area late Tuesday afternoon, with the plane receiving a water cannon salute as it arrived near the gate.
The call from the president to Johnson’s widow came shortly before Johnson’s casket arrival, Wilson said Tuesday night.
“Basically, he said, ‘Well, I guess he knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt,’ ” Wilson said.
“That’s what he said.”
Asked earlier if she was sure the president said that, Wilson told WPLG: “Yeah, he said that. You know … that is something that you can say in a conversation, but you shouldn’t say that to a grieving widow. 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 is so insensitive. So insensitive.”
A White House official said Tuesday: “The president’s conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private.”
Wilson told WPLG that she hoped the president didn’t make similar comments to the ones she heard to the other families of the soldiers killed.
“That is what stood out in everyone’s heart,” she said. “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 the entire District 24, to Miami-Dade County and to this nation. And I hope he didn’t say that to the other three families.”