White House Adds Confusion to Trump Phone Call Controversy
The White House added more confusion Friday to the controversy over what President Donald Trump did or didn't say in a phone call earlier this week to a Gold Star widow.
Trump's daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, said on the "Fox & Friends" show that she had read a transcript of the phone call, and it showed the president correctly trying to console the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson by stressing his honorable service to the nation.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said later that there was no transcript.
"There's not a transcript of the call," Sanders said at a testy White House briefing. "I believe she [Lara Trump] was responding to reports and things she read. I haven't spoken directly to her."
The briefing then devolved into a confrontational back-and-forth on what Trump actually said, whether the family was right to be offended, whether Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Florida, was lying about the phone call, and whether retired Marine Gen. John Kelly was lying about Wilson.
Lara Trump, who works for Trump's re-election campaign and is the wife of Trump's eldest son Eric, seemed certain that she had read a transcript, although she did not say where or when she read it.
Fox News' host Ainsley Earhardt asked Lara Trump, "You read the transcript. What were your thoughts?"
"From what I have seen, this is a clear case of the media not doing their job," Lara Trump responded.
"Whenever you read exactly what he [President Trump] said, he said, 'Your husband went into battle, you know, knowing that he could be injured, knowing that he could be killed and he still did it because he loves his country and he did it for the American people,' " Lara Trump told Earhardt.
"I can't think of a better way, quite frankly, to express my gratitude to someone than by saying something like that," Lara Trump said, "and yet they conveniently leave off the last part of what was said."
Wilson, a long-time friend of the Johnson family, said that Trump in his phone call to the family on Tuesday said that Sgt. Johnson "knew what he was getting into, but it still hurts."
She said she was riding in a car with the 24-year-old widow, Myeshia Johnson, and other family members when the call came in.
She said that a "master sergeant," presumably on the casualty detail, had put the call on speaker phone.
Wilson later said that the family was offended by the tone and content of Trump's remarks, and she told CNN that Trump was "cold-hearted and he feels no pity or sympathy for anyone."
Cowanda Jones-Johnson, Sgt. Johnson's mother, backed up Wilson. She told The Washington Post Wednesday that she was present during the call.
"President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband," Jones-Johnson said.
In a Tweet on Tuesday, Trump said that Wilson "totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!"
In another Tweet late Thursday, Trump said, "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!"
Earlier Thursday at a White House briefing, Kelly, the White House chief of staff, harshly criticized Wilson for listening in on the call and commenting on what was said, but he did not directly contradict her account that Trump had told the family that Sgt. Johnson "knew what he was getting into."
Kelly said he had initially advised Trump not to make the call, but then told him of his own experience when his son, Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2010.
He said Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who would become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told him that Lt. Kelly died among friends doing what he wanted to do.
Kelly said Trump delivered a similar message to Sgt. Johnson's widow: "He knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted. And he was where he wanted to be, exactly where he wanted to be, with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken."
In criticizing Wilson, however, Kelly appeared to make incorrect statements about another incident -- the 2015 dedication of an FBI field office in Miami.
He charged that Wilson ostentatiously sought at the dedication to claim credit for raising funds for the building.
Kelly said that an empty barrel makes the most noise, and he called Wilson an "empty barrel."
Video of the event found by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel does not show Wilson talking about funding. Instead, she spoke about pushing fast-track legislation to name the building after two slain FBI agents.
On CNN Friday morning, Wilson said, "You know, I feel sorry for General Kelly. He has my sympathy for the loss of his son. But he can't just go on TV and lie on me. I was not even in Congress in 2009 when the money for the building was secured. So that's a lie. How dare he?"
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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