White House

Trump and Congresswoman Wilson in a war of words over call to dead soldier’s family

Myeshia Johnson, the widow of fallen Miami Gardens soldier Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger in west Africa earlier this month, cries atop the casket with his body at Miami International Airport, Oct. 17, 2017.
Myeshia Johnson, the widow of fallen Miami Gardens soldier Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger in west Africa earlier this month, cries atop the casket with his body at Miami International Airport, Oct. 17, 2017.

President Donald Trump accused a Miami-Dade Democratic congresswoman Wednesday morning of lying about his response to a fallen soldier’s widow — that “he knew what he signed up for” — and said he had proof of the conversation.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, who represents Miami Gardens, “totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action,” he wrote. “Sad!”

After Trump’s tweet Wednesday morning, the congresswoman fired back, “I wasn’t in the car by myself,” she said. Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s widow Myeshia Johnson, the master sergeant, the late sergeant’s aunt and uncle, and Wilson’s driver were also in the limousine, Wilson said.

“Everything I said was authentic. Mr. Trump is pursuing this as a coverup. This is going to be his Benghazi,” Wilson said. “There’s a reason this young man was missing for two days. They didn’t have the right equipment. The trucks were not armored. Their guns were not matched to the terrorists.’ You just don’t go to that part of the country without the proper ammunition and proper equipment.”

Johnson, along with members of the 3rd Special Forces Group out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was part of a joint mission with Niger military when he was killed on Oct. 4.

“This is very personal for me,” Wilson said. She had mentored Johnson as part of her signature 5000 Role Models project that provides educational opportunities for young African American males.

“I’ll fight Mr. Trump toe to toe. He’s fighting the wrong one now. He doesn’t need to start up anything with me. He said what he said and he needs to call her and say he’s sorry and go on and run the country before he takes us to war. He spends too much time on stuff that doesn’t have to do with running this country,” Wilson said.

Earlier Wednesday, Wilson responded to Trump’s tweet in a conversation with CNN. “Trump should be acting presidential “instead of calling me a liar and calling everyone else in the car a liar. He doesn’t even know how to sympathize with people.”

Cowanda Jones-Johnson, who the Washington Post described as Johnson’s mother on Wednesday, told reporters that Wilson’s account of the call was accurate and that she was also present in the car when the call took place.

“President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband,” she told the Post.

Johnson’s widow was “balled up” in the car, distraught after learning she would not be able to see her husband in an open casket, Wilson said. “She just wanted to see him in one whole piece.”

When the president called, the phone was placed to her ear and put on speaker, Wilson said. “He did all the talking. She didn’t say nothing except when he got ready to hang up she said he was calling him ‘Your guy.’ He didn’t even know his name. That’s what she said. ‘Your guy. Your guy.’

Wilson told the Herald on Tuesday that she heard that call on speakerphone from Trump to the widow of Johnson, the soldier and father who was killed in Niger whose body was returned home that afternoon.

Myeshia Johnson, who is pregnant and mother to Johnson’s two children, took Trump’s call at 4:45 p.m., just before Johnson’s body arrived at Miami International Airport.

As she was in a car heading to the airport with her family with Wilson, Trump told Johnson’s widow that “he knew what he signed up for … but when it happens it hurts anyway,” Wilson said.

“I think it’s so insensitive. It’s crazy. Why do you need to say that?’’ Wilson asked. “You don’t say that to someone who lost family, the father, the breadwinner. You can say, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss. He’s a hero.’

“I’m livid. He can’t even have an open-coffin funeral because his body is so messed up,’’ Wilson said.

Johnson, who had Myeshia’s name tattooed across his chest under his U.S. Army uniform, was saluted with a ceremonial homecoming at Miami International Airport. His family, dignitaries and law enforcement officers all saluted Johnson as his casket, draped in the American flag, wheeled out of a Delta Airlines plane en route to Fred Hunter’s Funeral Home in Hollywood.

President Donald Trump earlier unleashed controversy this week when he said that his predecessors, including President Barack Obama, did not personally call families of fallen soldiers, a statement refuted by Obama officials.

On CNN Wednesday, Wilson said Trump did not seem to remember Johnson’s name in the call and that she wanted “to curse him out.” She added he needed to be trained in how to respond to loved ones or to limit his conversations with them entirely.

“The best thing for him in these circumstances is to write a note,” she said. “When he makes his call, he can cut his call short by saying, ‘I'm sorry, your son was a hero,’ even though he already said he doesn't think people who are caught or killed are heroes.”

But in Johnson’s case, she added, she wants nothing more from the president: “I want him to say absolutely nothing. We're trying to bury our son.”

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen

Elizabeth Koh: 305-376-3551, @elizabethrkoh

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