White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed Wednesday that Rep. Frederica Wilson’s account of the discussion between President Trump and the grieving widow of slain soldier La David Johnson was “disgraceful” and “disgusting,” but never explicitly denied that the president told the young widow her husband “knew what he signed up for.”
Asked about the validity of Wilson’s story — which has been confirmed by Johnson’s mother and denied by Trump — Sanders said during Wednesday’s press briefing that the president’s comments were well-intentioned and “taken very far out of context.”
Asked whether the president was denying he made the comments at all or suggesting that Myeshia Johnson took them “the wrong way,” Sanders did not directly answer the question but responded that “multiple people in the room” when Trump made the call said they believed his words were “completely respectful, very sympathetic.”
Trump “expressed the condolences on behalf of himself and the rest of the country, thanked the family for their service and commended them for having an American hero in their family — and I don’t know how you could take that any other way,” Sanders said.
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“I’m not going to get into the back and forth,” she continued. “I think the sentiment of the president was very clear; he took the time to make a call to express his condolences, to thank the family for this individual’s service. I think it, frankly, is a disgrace of the media to try to portray an act of kindness like that.”
Sanders went on to criticize Wilson’s conduct in the incident, saying, “I think it is appalling what the congresswoman has done and the way she has politicized this issue and the way she is trying to make this about something that it isn’t. This was a president who loves our country very much, who has the greatest level of respect for men and women in uniform and wanted to call and offer condolences to the family.”
She added, “And I think to try to create something from that, that the congresswoman is doing is frankly appalling and disgusting.”
Wilson has said she stands by her account, which was confirmed by La David Johnson’s mother, who said Wednesday that Trump “disrespected” her son and family.
Sanders was also asked why Trump suggested that reporters ask White House Chief of Staff John Kelly whether Barack Obama called Kelly when the retired general’s son was killed in battle in Afghanistan in 2010, after claiming Obama did not call Gold Star families during his presidency.
Did Kelly know that Trump would be raising the issue of his son’s death amid this controversy? a reporter asked.
Sanders said she wasn’t sure whether Kelly “knew about that specific comment but they had certainly had a conversation.”
“I think General Kelly is disgusted by the way that this has been politicized and that the focus has become on the process and not the fact that American lives were lost,” she said. “I think he’s disgusted and frustrated by that. And if he has any anger it’s towards that.”
She added that Kelly was present for Trump’s call to La David Johnson’s family and “thought it was completely appropriate.”
“He thought it was respectful and he thought the president did the best that he could under the circumstances to offer condolences on behalf of the country,” Sanders said.
She also defended Trump after Wilson criticized the president for referring to La David Johnson as “your guy” during the phone call.
“Just because the president said ‘your guy,’ I don’t think he didn’t know his name,” Sanders said. “He said the hardest job he has is making calls like that.”