On Tuesday, a Democratic representative from Florida, Frederica Wilson, claimed to several news outlets that President Trump made insensitive remarks to the widow of a fallen soldier when he called her to offer his condolences. These allegations of insensitivity are especially ironic, considering Trump recently (erroneously) condemned former U.S. presidents, particularly Barack Obama, for how they interacted with families of fallen soldiers during their tenures.
Update: In a tweet on Wednesday morning, Trump wrote, "Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!" He did not immediately elaborate on what proof he had.
Earlier: Bustle reached out to the White House for comment on the president's call and Wilson's allegations of insensitivity but has not received a response. However, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, the White House did release a statement emphasizing that conversations between the president and soldiers' families are confidential, saying, "The President's conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private."
Wilson claimed that the incident occurred while she was riding in a car with the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed during an ambush in Niger, along with three other U.S. soldiers, earlier this month. Wilson stated that Trump called Johnson’s widow, Myeshia, as she was on the way to meet her husband's body in Miami.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Wilson said that Trump told Myeshia of her recently deceased husband, "He knew he what was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway." Wilson said she overheard the conversation on speaker phone. According to the Hill, the Congresswoman reported that Myeshia was "very distraught" after the call. The Washington Post also reported that Wilson said that Johnson's widow became emotional as a result of Trump's phone call, claiming "he made her cry."
Wilson was highly critical of Trump's reported words to Johnson's widow, saying to ABC 10 News in Miami, "It's so insensitive. He should have not have said that. He shouldn't have said it." The congresswoman also told the Washington Post that, during the call, she had wanted to take the phone and "curse him out."
This allegation of insensitivity toward a military family against Trump is especially ironic considering that the president has recently touted his efforts to reach out to military families. During a press conference on Tuesday, when speaking about his plans to contact families of those killed in Niger, Trump said,
I've written them personal letters. ... I will, at some point during the period of time, call the parents and the families — because I have done that, traditionally. ... If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. ... A lot of them didn't make calls.
Later on in the press conference, Trump seemed to backtrack a bit when asked again about his assertions regarding past presidents' actions, saying, “I don’t know if he did [call]. ... I was told he didn’t often, and a lot of presidents don’t. They write letters. ... President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t. ... That’s what I was told. All I can do is ask my generals.”
Nonetheless, condemnation of Trump's assertions was swift. A former Obama official stated after the press conference that Obama was highly engaged with families of deceased and injured soldiers during his tenure, according to NPR:
President Trump's claim is wrong. President Obama engaged families of the fallen and wounded warriors throughout his presidency through calls, letters, visits to Section 60 at Arlington, visits to Walter Reed, visits to Dover, and regular meetings with Gold Star families at the White House and across the country.
Moreover, perhaps in stark contrast to the recent allegations of insensitivity against Trump, Obama was frequently praised by military families for his thoughtfulness in offering his condolences. As the Washington Times reported in 2009, at the beginning of his administration, Obama wrote personalized letters to the families of fallen soldiers, handwriting each note and including personal details about each service member's life.
After Obama wrote the notes, they were then typed up and he signed them "Barack." As the Washington Times reported, Thya Merz, the mother of a solider who was killed in combat, Marine Lance Cpl. Julian Brennan, told the outlet how touched she was by Obama's words to her family in the letter.
“This was real, it was personal, it was so important to us. ... It is meaningful to have Julian’s death noted personally by him," Merz told the outlet. Merz also referred to Obama's letter as "lovely" and was impressed that he took the time to write it himself. According to Rep. Wilson's claims, Trump's reaction to Johnson's death couldn't have been more different.