Witness sticks to story after president hints at recording
President Donald Trump appears unable to resist getting drawn into public battles involving figures who are far more vulnerable and sympathetic than he is, and true to form, he used Twitter to escalate the battle over a call to a war widow in which he is alleged to have been insensitive.
Trump tweeted that the witness to the call had "totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!"
But in an interview yesterday with this reporter, the witness, Democrat Congress-woman Frederica Wilson, stood by her story, and denounced Trump as a "liar" and "crazy". But perhaps even more interesting, she shared some new details that will thicken this plot: She said there were other witnesses in the car, and also noted that she has known the slain soldier for a long time and "mentored" him.
The slain soldier, Sgt La David T Johnson, was one of four soldiers gunned down on the border of Niger and Mali on October 4. Their fate has been tangled in a political battle that picked up steam when Trump, questioned several days ago as to why he hadn't commented on their deaths, falsely suggested that former president Barack Obama hadn't called the families of deceased soldiers.
Trump continued stoking this story by instructing the media to ask his chief of staff John Kelly if Obama had called him upon the death of his son in combat.
On Tuesday night the news broke that Trump had told Johnson's widow, Myeshia Johnson, that "He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway."
This was according to Ms Wilson, who late on Tuesday told the 'Washington Post' that she had overheard the call on a speakerphone while riding in a limousine with Johnson when Trump called, and that this exchange made the widow cry. This is what Trump claims was "fabricated", which now has reporters speculating that Trump may have a recording or an official transcript.
'I want to know why he can't have an open casket'
But Ms Wilson said in our interview she was sticking by the story, and asserted that there were other witnesses in the car, including the driver and the aunt and uncle of the deceased soldier. "I was not the only one in the car," she said. "Mr Trump is crazy," Ms Wilson told me. "He's a liar. He's proven to be a liar."
She said she was more "concerned about the circumstances around his death" than about what Trump said.
When I pressed Ms Wilson on whether she was sticking by her account that she heard Trump say, "he knew what he was signing up for", she said: "Yes." When I reiterated that Trump claims to have proof otherwise, she said: "How about you go get that proof and call me back?"
Ms Wilson said that the widow had been informed that her slain husband would have a closed-casket funeral.
"I want to know why he can't have an open casket," Ms Wilson said. "They told us no, because of the condition of the body." She said that the widow was "distraught" over this, adding: "When don't you have an open casket? When the face or the head is disfigured, right?"
Ms Wilson said she had known the slain solder for a long time, noting that he had passed through the mentoring programme for boys of colour she founded in Miami in 1993. It's called the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project. She said she had "practically raised" him. She added that there was also a scholarship fund bearing his name.
Hopefully we will soon find out whether Trump has the proof he claims to of what was said on the call, and hopefully that can be settled. Either way, it appears that this story is likely to escalate, now that it appears that Ms Wilson had her own relationship with the dead young man, which will perhaps complicate any further criticism of her by Trump. And now we know there were others in the car, they may be sought out.
When I asked Ms Wilson if she would be making the aunt and uncle available for comment, she said: "I don't think they have that kind of strength." (© The Washington Post)