President Trump refuted Sgt. La David Johnson's widow's account of his condolence call once again on Wednesday. Speaking to reporters in the afternoon, Trump defended himself against the gold star widow's claims that he did not know her husband's name during the call and said that he had "one of the great memories of all time."
In the past week, the grieving widow Myeshia Johnson and her family have been dragged into a public tussle with the president over what exactly transpired in his phone call to her, which was meant to express his condolences over her husband's death in the ambush in Niger earlier this month.
"I was extremely nice to her. She sounds like a lovely lady," Trump said on Wednesday. "I respect her, I respect her family, I certainly respect La David." He reiterated that he mentioned the fallen soldier's name, then said he had "one of the greatest memories of all time," pointing to his temple.
The controversy surrounding the phone call began last week when Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, who is close to Johnson's family and was in the car when Trump called, claimed he told Myeshia that her husband "knew what he signed up for."
The backlash was swift, and Trump quickly denied saying that. In the days following Wilson's initial statement, Trump insisted he had "proof" that Wilson was lying (though he failed to follow up on this claim), called Wilson a "wacky Congresswoman," then attempted to divert attention to Obama, who did not call Gen. John Kelly, his current chief of staff, after his son died in battle.
On Thursday, Kelly delivered a fierce defense of Trump during a press briefing. He spoke about learning of his son's death in Afghanistan and slammed criticism of Trump over the call to Myeshia Johnson — directing his attention at Rep. Wilson in particular.
"It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation — absolutely stuns me," Kelly said, though it was Johnson's family's decision to have her sit in on the call.
Kelly told reporters that learning about the criticism against Trump angered him, and said that it showed how little respect the country has for things that were once considered sacred.
"Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life, the dignity of life, is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well," Kelly said. "Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer."
He has similarly faced backlash over what many have called his attack on Wilson.
On Monday, Myeshia appeared on Good Morning America and spoke about the controversy. Her account backed Wilson's — that Trump did not mention Sgt. Johnson's name during the call, and that he told her that her husband knew what he was signing up for. Myeshia told George Stephanopoulus that she was "very, very upset and hurt" over the phone call.
"Whatever Miss Wilson said was not fabricated," Myeshia added. "What she said was 100 percent correct."
This is not the first time Trump has been mired in controversy with a Gold Star family of his own doing. During the 2016 election, as a candidate, he engaged in an ugly feud with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of slain Army Capt. Humayun Khan, after they delivered a powerful rebuke of Trump's campaign rhetoric at the Democratic National Convention.
At the time, Trump claimed that Khan "viciously attacked" him at the DNC and he had to defend himself. He was roundly criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike, though he later went on to win the Republican primary.
Khizr Khan recently spoke to the press about Trump's latest comments on Myeshia Johnson and Rep. Wilson, saying that he was "shocked" by the controversy. "I wish somebody would advise him dignity," Khan said, and most of all, "dignity for these families."