Donald Trump is embroiled in a heated battle with a Democratic congresswoman who says the president told the grieving widow of slain U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson that he “knew what he signed up for” during a condolence call.
In his latest attack on U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida, Trump blasted the congresswoman as “wacky” and accused her of “secretly” listening in on his call on Tuesday to Johnson’s pregnant widow, Myeshia Johnson.
Wilson is a personal friend of the Johnson family and was in the car when Myeshia took the president’s call on speakerphone.
Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, confirmed Wilson’s account of the call and told The Washington Post that “President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.”
But Trump continued to deny Wilson’s version of events, insisting Friday: “The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson(D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!”
Trump first tweeted a denial on Wednesday, claiming he could prove he didn’t say those words to the widow. He has yet to offer concrete proof.
Later that day, Trump told White House pool reporters, “I didn’t say what that congresswoman said, didn’t say it at all, she knows it.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also claimed Wednesday that Wilson’s account of the conversation was “disgraceful” and “disgusting,” but never explicitly denied that the president told the young widow her husband “knew what he signed up for.”
Wilson has continued to stand by her account. She has also criticized Trump for referring to Myeshia in comments as “the woman” or “the wife,” and for calling Johnson “your guy” in the president’s call to Myeshia.
In Wednesday’s press briefing, Sanders said that “just because the president said ‘your guy,’ I don’t think he didn’t know his name.”
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The controversy first began Monday, when Trump was asked during a press conference about the four U.S. Army special operations commandos killed in an ambush in Niger earlier this month, whose deaths the president had yet to publicly comment on. Johnson was among the soldiers killed in the attack, along with Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Bryan Black.
Asked whether he would call the families of the fallen soldiers, Trump said he would and then claimed that past presidents, specifically his predecessor, Barack Obama, had not done so in similar situations.
“The traditional way if you look at President Obama and the other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls,” Trump said. “I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it. They made the ultimate sacrifice, so generally I would say that I like to call.”
Trump was fact-checked in real time and called out on his false claim later in the press conference. He was then forced to walk back what Obama aides called an “outrageous lie,” admitting that his predecessor “probably [called] sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know.”
Since then, Trump made good on his promise to call Johnson’s family — with obviously controversial results — and that of Sgt. Dustin Wright, who was also killed in the Niger attack.
Wright’s brother, Will, told PEOPLE that his father had an “emotional,” 20-minute phone call with Trump and said the president’s “comments were appropriate” and his “tone was great.”