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The Mother Of A Slain Soldier Said President Trump "Did Disrespect My Son" In A Phone Call

The president reportedly told the widow of one of the four soldiers killed in Niger that her husband "knew what he signed up for." President Trump later denied that he said that.

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President Trump on Tuesday called the family of slain Army Sgt. La David Johnson, setting off an extraordinary back-and-forth over assertions that the president’s comments were disrespectful.

USASOC identifies fourth soldier killed in Niger. Sgt. La David Johnson of Miami Gardens, Florida. #abc11

Johnson, 25, was one of four soldiers killed in an ambush Oct. 4 in Niger. The incident is under investigation, the Department of Defense said.

Almost two weeks passed between Johnson's death and the president's phone call, a gap Trump explained at a Monday press conference as him wanting "a little time to pass."

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Trump also falsely claimed that his predecessors had not offered the same condolences.

"The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls," he said.

He added, "I like, when I can, the combination of a call and also a letter." (An Associated Press investigation later found multiple families of soldiers who died overseas this year who said Trump had not contacted them either by phone, letter, or both.)

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On Tuesday, Johnson's family gathered to receive his remains. Trump's phone call came as they were on their way to the airport.

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Traveling in the car with his widow, Myeshia Johnson, were the fallen soldier's mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, and Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democrat who represents Johnson's hometown of Miami Gardens (it's unclear who else, if anyone, was in the car).

Wilson told CNN the president's call was on speakerphone in the car.

The president said Johnson "knew what he signed up for...but when it happens it hurts anyway," Wilson told Local 10 and CNN. Wilson said she didn't hear the whole call, but that Myeshia Johnson was upset by it.

"When she hung up the phone she looked at me and said, 'He didn't even know his name.' Now that's the worst part," Wilson told CNN.

Johnson cried during the phone call and thanked the president when it was time to hang up, Wilson said. Wilson added that Johnson was already overwhelmed — she had just learned there could be no open casket at the funeral because of the condition of her husband's body, Wilson said.

On Wednesday morning, Trump responded to the congresswoman's comments by accusing her of making the whole thing up.

Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!

But later Wednesday, the soldier's mother confirmed Wilson's retelling of the phone call. "President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband," Jones-Johnson told the Washington Post on Wednesday via Facebook Messenger.

Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Wilson told CNN that the president's remarks to the grieving widow left her "livid."

"It's so insensitive. He should have not have said that. He shouldn't have said it," the congresswoman told Local 10.

"I asked them to give me the phone because I wanted to speak with him," Wilson told CNN. "And I was going to curse him out. That was my reaction at that time. I was livid."

Wilson continued to comment on Twitter, calling Johnson a hero and saying Trump "does not possess the character, empathy or grace to be president of the United States."

Sgt. La David Johnson is a hero. @realDonaldTrump does not possess the character, empathy or grace to be president of the United States.

A White House source, speaking anonymously to the Sentinel, said the president only meant to comfort the widow in his call and perhaps was "misunderstood."

"This president cares deeply. Maybe he said something that was misunderstood, but he certainly cares about fallen servicemen and -women," said the source.

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Trump then appeared before reporters at the White House, where he again denied making the comments.

Trump denies telling widow of fallen soldier "he knew what he signed up for," calls on Rep. Wilson to make another… https://t.co/WFcQgKaM3Y

"I did not say what that congresswoman said, didn't say it at all," Trump said.

"I would like her to make the statement again because I did not say what she said.

"I had a very nice conversation with the woman — with the wife, who sounded like a lovely woman. Did not say what the congresswoman said, and most people aren't too surprised to hear that," Trump said.

Wilson then responded to Trump on Twitter.

I still stand by my account of the call b/t @realDonaldTrump and Myesha Johnson. That is her name, Mr. Trump. Not "the woman" or "the wife."

On Wednesday afternoon during a press briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders blamed the media and Wilson for politicizing the deaths of US soldiers.

Susan Walsh / AP

"I think it is appalling what the congresswoman has done in the way she's politicized this issue, and the way that she is trying to make this about something that it isn't," said Sanders.

As often happens in the Trump administration, she also blamed the media for creating the upset.

"He took the time to make a call, express condolences and thank the family for this individual's service, and I think it, frankly, is a disgrace of the media to try to portray an act of — kindness like that, and that gesture, try to make it into something that it isn't."

Sanders refused to get into specifics about what was or wasn't said on the call, but said that other members of the administration, including Chief of Staff John Kelly, were there when the call was made.

"Multiple people in the room believe that the president was completely respectful, very sympathetic, and expressed the condolences of himself and the rest of the country, and thanked the family for their service, commended them for having an American hero in their family, and I don't know how you can take that any other way," said Sanders.

Reporter April Ryan noted that Wilson told her the president didn't say Johnson's name to his widow and instead repeatedly called him "your guy."

Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

Sanders also denied that the president hadn't made contact with all of the families of soldiers' killed during his administration, despite the AP investigation which found two families had yet to receive a call or letter after the death.

"The president's made contact with all of the families that have been presented to him for the White House military office," said Sanders explaining that it was an official process that was done by the military and the White House to verify a death and contact the families.

Politico reported on Wednesday that a condolence statement was drafted by the National Security Council soon after the incident in Niger, but it was never released by the White House.

Johnson was assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group, based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Facebook / Via facebook.com

He was known locally and on social media as Wheelie King 305, for uploading videos of bike tricks. A scholarship fund has been set up for his 6-year-old daughter, his 2-year-old son, and his unborn child. His funeral is set for Saturday.

BuzzFeed News reached out to the White House, Wilson, and Myeshia Johnson, but did not hear back.

Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Claudia Koerner at claudia.koerner@buzzfeed.com.

Amber Jamieson is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Amber Jamieson at amber.jamieson@buzzfeed.com.

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