WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump denied Wednesday that he told the widow of a US 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. CNN has reached out to the White House.
Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Florida, made the stunning claim Tuesday night, saying she was present when the call took place. Sgt. La David Johnson was among the four US soldiers killed by enemy fire in an October 4 ambush in Niger.
“I have proof, too: this man is a sick man,” Wilson said Wednesday morning on CNN’s “New Day,” 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.”
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, a Florida Democrat, said on “CNN Tonight” Tuesday night.
“Basically he said, ‘Well, I guess he knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt,’ ” Wilson said to Don Lemon, adding that she listened to part of the call on speaker phone while in a vehicle with the family.
“That’s what he said,” she added.
Asked earlier if she was sure the President said that, Wilson told CNN affiliate 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.”
CNN was unable to reach the family for comment.
Trump addressed the deaths 12 days later in a Rose Garden news conference.
“I felt very, very badly about that,” Trump said Monday. “I always feel badly. It is the toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens, soldiers are killed.”
He then claimed that other commanders in chief hadn’t reached out to families of Americans killed in action, indicating he’d been told as much by the generals who serve in his administration.
In her interview, 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.”
This story is breaking and being updated.