US President Donald Trump has triggered vicious backlash yet again after a Democratic Congresswoman claimed the president made insensitive and disrespectful remarks to the grieving widow of a soldier killed in Niger earlier this month. Representative Frederica Wilson of Florida told news outlets on Tuesday (17 October) that she overheard Trump tell Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt La David Johnson, that her husband "knew what he signed up for... but when it happens, it hurts anyway".
Wilson said she was in the car with Myeshia on the way to Miami International Airport to receive the fallen soldier's body when Trump called and she heard the conversation on speakerphone. She said Myeshia was "very distraught" after the president's call. The congresswoman also mentioned that the president kept referring to Myeshia's husband as "your guy" during the call.
Myeshia has two young children and is six-months pregnant with the couple's third child.
Cowanda Jones-Johnson, the soldier's mother, told The Washington Post that the president "did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband", noting that Wilson's statement was true.
The phone call came after Trump faced criticism for not publicly speaking about the deaths of the four soldiers who were killed in a 4 October ambush in Niger and falsely accusing past presidents, including his predecessor Barack Obama, of not contacting the families of fallen troops.
On Wednesday (18 October), Trump slammed Wilson saying that her account of the conversation was "totally fabricated" and claimed to have proof.
"Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!" he wrote in an early morning tweet. He later doubled down on the denial, saying, "I didn't say what that Congresswoman said – didn't say it at all – she knows it. I would like her to make the statement again because I did not say what she said."
Trump told reporters he "had a very nice conversation with the woman, the wife, who sounded like a lovely woman". Wilson immediately shot back on Twitter, saying, "I still stand by my account of the call b/t @realDonaldTrump and Myeshia Johnson. That is her name, Mr. Trump. Not 'the woman' or 'the wife'."
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Wilson's accusations "appalling" and slammed the controversy surrounding it as a "disgrace of the media".
When asked if there was a recording of the conversation, Sanders said the call with Myeshia Johnson was not recorded but noted that there were "several people in the room from the administration on the call", including Chief of Staff John Kelly.
"As the President stated, the hardest job he has is making calls like that. I think it is appalling what the Congresswoman has done and the way that she's politicised this issue, and the way that she is trying to make this about something that it isn't," Sanders said.
"This is a President who loves our country very much, who has the greatest level of respect for men and women in the uniform, and wanted to call and offer condolences to the family. And I think to try to create something from that, that the Congresswoman is doing is, frankly, appalling and disgusting."
Twitter, on the other hand, erupted with criticism over the president's "incredibly disrespectful" conversation with the widow of the soldier and his pushing back at criticism of the same.
"Trump mocked McCain's capture, ridiculed Khan family and is denigrating a soldier's widow," Fuller House producer and writer Bryan Behar tweeted. "But NFL players kneeling disgraces the troops?"
One person wrote, "Mrs. Johnson, our nation is mourning with you and praying for you. Your husband is an American hero who gave his life for our freedom. We will never forget."