President Trump was criticized for his silence surrounding the deaths of four American soldiers in an ambush on the Niger-Mali border Oct. 4. And when he did finally address the subject, Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson alleged the president was insensitive in a phone call to Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson's widow. In an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday, Sgt. Johnson's mother confirmed Rep. Wilson's account. Cowanda Jones-Johnson said, "President Trump did disrespect my son, and my daughter, and also me and my husband."
In a statement provided to Bustle, Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan call Trump's reported behavior "unbecoming." They add, "[Trump's] lack of empathy, selfish and divisive actions have undermined the dignity of the high office of the presidency. ... One more time he has shown the nation him undeserving of the leadership of our great nation."
Jones-Johnson said she witnessed the phone call between President Trump and her daughter-in-law, backing up Rep. Wilson's claims that the president told Sgt. Johnson's widow, "He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway." (Jones-Johnson did not return Bustle's request for comment.)
Although President Trump denied reports that he was disrespectful to Sgt. Johnson's family in a tweet Wednesday morning, claiming he has proof Rep. Wilson lied, the congresswoman has stood by her account of the conversation. Bustle has reached out to Rep. Wilson's office for comment.
Along with the Kahns, other parents of fallen soldiers were alarmed by Trump's reported behavior. Karen Meredith, VoteVets' Gold Star and military families coordinator who lost her son in Iraq, tells Bustle people made similar comments to her when her son, First Lieutenant Ken Ballard, died.
But, she says, this was the first time she heard the words come out of a president's mouth.
"I was out by myself, but I gasped," she says of the moment she heard of President Trump's reported comments. "I couldn't believe that a commander in chief would say that. I always wonder how low the bar can go with Trump, but he lowered it there."
Even if Trump wants to remedy the situation now, Meredith doesn't think he can.
"I don’t think he has empathy for other people's situations," she tells Bustle.
Because President Trump called days after Sgt. Johnson was killed, his widow, Myeshia Johnson, was dealing with funeral plans for her husband when she spoke to the commander in chief on the phone.
“She has just lost her husband," Wilson told CNN, "She was just told that he cannot have an open casket funeral, which gives her all kinds of nightmares about how his body must look, how his face must look, and this is what the president of the United States says to her?”
Regardless of what he said, Meredith thinks calling relatives of a fallen soldier more than a week after their death is inconsiderate because the family is consumed with retrieving the body and planning a funeral.
"I wouldn’t have been prepared for it, regardless of what president it was," Meredith tells Bustle.
According to Rep. Wilson's account of the controversial phone call, it made Myeshia cry and she was "very distraught” afterward. She also claimed Trump didn’t even remember Sgt. Johnson's name.
The White House's response to Rep. Wilson's claims was that the president's conversations with "American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private."
Sgt. Johnson was assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and was one of four soldiers killed in the ambush. The 25-year-old left behind two children, and Myeshia is currently pregnant with their third child.