In denying Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson’s account of a condolence telephone call, the President created a fresh political controversy over his response to the Niger attack and his willingness to inject politics into an issue that is typically regarded as sacred by past commanders in chief.
Wilson first made the stunning claim Tuesday night, saying she was present when the call took place. Sgt. La David Johnson was among the four US soldiers killed by enemy fire in the October 4 ambush. She added on CNN’s “New Day” Wednesday morning that Trump didn’t know the name of the service member and that his widow “broke down” after her call with the President.
Trump denied Wilson’s account in both a tweet and a statement made at the White House.
“I didn’t say what that congresswoman said. Didn’t say it at all,” Trump told reporters during a meeting on tax reform in the Cabinet Room. “She knows it. And she now is not saying it. I did not say what she said.”
Trump said he had a “very nice” conversation with Johnson’s widow, “who sounded like a lovely woman.” Referring to Wilson, he added: “I’d like her to make the statement again because I did not say what she said.”
Minutes later, Wilson responded on Twitter to Trump’s remarks, saying she still stood by her account. She then told CNN affiliate WPLG that “Mr. Trump is crazy,” hours after she told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota that the President has a “brain disorder.”
Trump said he has proof Wilson fabricated her claim, but neither he nor the White House immediately provided any evidence or explanation by what he meant. Cowanda Jones-Johnson, a family member who raised Johnson, told CNN Wednesday that Wilson’s account of the call between Trump and Johnson’s widow, Myeshia, was “very accurate.” She said she was in the car when the call happened.
Wilson on “New Day” described herself as “livid” when she heard the call on speakerphone, but when she tried to get on the phone to talk to Trump herself, a master sergeant who was present prevented her from doing so. Per military protocol, the calls from the commander in chief are solely presidential condolence conversations.
Wilson said she was ready to “curse him out” had she had the chance to get on the line. However, the Florida Democrat said she wouldn’t get into the specifics of what she would have said, adding that she didn’t want to “politicize” the incident.
It took Trump days to publicly discuss the attacks, and earlier this week, he falsely claimed that former President Barack Obama didn’t call families of fallen service members, later suggesting reporters contact his chief of staff, John Kelly, whose son was killed in Afghanistan, to ask if Obama reached out to him.
‘I guess it still hurt’
Johnson’s body was returned home to the Miami area late Tuesday afternoon, with the plane receiving a water cannon salute as it arrived near the gate.
The call from the President to Johnson’s widow came shortly before Johnson’s casket arrival, Wilson said on “CNN Tonight” Tuesday night.
“Basically, he said, ‘Well, I guess he knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt,’ ” Wilson said to CNN’s Don Lemon.
“That’s what he said,” she added.
Asked earlier if she was sure the President said that, Wilson told CNN affiliate WPLG: “Yeah, he said that. You know … that is something that you can say in a conversation, but you shouldn’t say that to a grieving widow. Everyone knows when you go to war you could possibly not come back alive, but you don’t remind a grieving widow of that. That is so insensitive. So insensitive.”
A White House official said Tuesday: “The President’s conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private.”
Wilson told WPLG that she hoped the President didn’t make similar comments to the ones she heard to the other families of the soldiers killed.
“That is what stood out in everyone’s heart,” she said. “You don’t say that. He is the President of the United States. This is a soldier who gave his life for his country. He is a hero in our minds, in our community’s minds. That is an insult to the entire Miami Gardens community, to the entire District 24, to Miami-Dade County and to this nation. And I hope he didn’t say that to the other three families.”
“I felt very, very badly about that,” Trump said Monday. “I always feel badly. It is the toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens, soldiers are killed.”
He then claimed that other commanders in chief hadn’t reached out to families of Americans killed in action, saying he’d been told as much by the generals who serve in his administration. On Tuesday, Trump bragged about calling loved ones from all those killed in action during his presidency.
“I really speak for myself. I am not speaking for other people. I don’t know what (George W.) Bush did. I don’t know what Obama did,” Trump said. “I believe his policy was somewhat different than my policy. I can tell you, my policy is I have called every one of them.”
Trump told reporters to ask Kelly if he received a call from Obama when his son was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2010.
“As far as other presidents, I don’t know, you could ask Gen. Kelly, did he get a call from Obama? I don’t know what Obama’s policy was,” Trump said during a Fox News Radio interview Tuesday. CNN asked the White House to talk to Kelly about this issue, but they declined to make him available. Kelly also has not responded to a direct request from comment from CNN.
Following Wednesday’s back-and-forth between Trump and Wilson, Karen Meredith, who lost her son, 1st Lt. Ken Ballard, in Iraq, called the President’s remarks “disgraceful” and “unbecoming.”
“Mr. Trump, stop. Please, just stop,” Meredith, the Gold Star and Military Families coordinator for VoteVets, said in a statement. “This is not about you, it is about them. It is about all of us who lost our loved ones in war. For once in your life, please stop making everything about you. For once in your life, at least pretend to know what empathy is. For once in your life, at least try to care about other people and their feelings.”
Outrage over Trump’s alleged comments to Johnson’s widow evoke a similar controversy to his public feud with the family of another fallen American soldier.
Before Trump’s alleged comments on Johnson surfaced, the Khans issued a statement Tuesday accusing Trump of a “lack of empathy” and of “selfish and divisive” conduct that undermined the dignity of the presidency.
“One more time, he has shown us that he is undeserving of the leadership of our great nation,” the family’s statement said.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Wilson was the principal of Johnson’s father.
CNN’s Dan Merica, Kevin Liptak, Noah Gray, Leigh Munsil, Steve Brusk, Danielle Hackett, Jamiel Lynch and Dave Alsup contributed to this report.
Radee Labeeb Prince, 37, is believed to have shot five people at Advanced Granite Solutions at the Emmorton Business Park in Edgewood, roughly 30 miles northeast of Baltimore, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler told reporters in a news conference.
The five people shot are believed to be employees of the business, and the two injured were in serious condition in a hospital Wednesday morning, Gahler said.
The shooting was reported to police just before 9 a.m. ET. Investigators believe Prince drove away in a black 2000 Acadia, with Delaware license plate PC064273.
“There’s an individual out there on the loose who committed one of the most heinous acts we’ve ever seen in our county. Certainly we consider him armed and dangerous,” Gahler said.
Shooting appears targeted, sheriff says
The sheriff said a motive isn’t known, but that “this does appear to be a target attack limited to that business.”
Gahler said Prince is believed to be “associated with that business,” but he did not elaborate.
“We do not believe there’s an immediate threat to the community — we do believe that this was targeted, with the qualifier that there is an armed and dangerous suspect out there,” Gahler said.
Aerial video from CNN affiliate WBAL showed numerous police vehicles at the office complex, located just south of an Interstate 95 interchange.
Special agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were at the shooting scene to help the sheriff’s department, the ATF said.
Five schools in the Edgewood area were placed on lockdown — meaning students are being kept in the buildings, and visitors are not permitted — as a precaution at the advice of the sheriff’s office, the county school system said on its website.
Correction: This story has been updated to correctly spell the name of suspect Radee Labeeb Prince.
President Trump’s response to the deaths of four soldiers in Niger is causing an uproar after Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla) said he told Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow that her husband “knew what he was signing up for.” (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)
The mother of a soldier killed in an ambush in Africa said Wednesday that President Trump “did disrespect my son” with remarks in a condolence telephone call a day earlier.
Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told The Post on Wednesday that she was present during the call from the White House on Tuesday to Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson. She stood by an account of the call from Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) that Trump told Johnson’s widow that her husband “must have known what he signed up for.”
“President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband,” Jones-Johnson said in an exchange with the Post.
Trump denied Wilson’s account in a Twitter message Wednesday. He said he had “proof” that the exchange did not go as Wilson had said. He did not elaborate, but the claim again raised questions about whether the president tapes calls and conversations.
Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!
Wilson had said that the Johnson family was “astonished” by that remark during the phone call, which Wilson said she heard via a speaker phone while riding in a car with the Johnson family.
Wilson told MSNBC on Wednesday that Johnson’s widow was shaken by the exchange.
“She was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part.”
The official Army photo of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Fla., who was killed on Oct. 4, 2017 in southwest Niger. (AFP PHOTO/Defense Department).
Wilson went on to say Trump “was almost like joking. He said, ‘Well, I guess you knew’ — something to the effect that ‘he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway.’ You know, just matter-of-factly, that this is what happens, anyone who is signing up for military duty is signing up to die. That’s the way we interpreted it. It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy, unnecessary. I was livid.”
“She was in tears. She was in tears. And she said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’”
I stand my account of the call with @realDonaldTrump and was not the only one who heard and was dismayed by his insensitive remarks.
On Tuesday, Wilson told The Washington Post that Trump had told Johnson’s widow, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”
Wilson said she was riding in a limousine with Johnson when the president called, and said she heard the conversation on speakerphone.
“He made her cry,” Wilson said.
The body of Sgt. La David T. Johnson arrived in Miami on Oct. 17. The U.S. Special Forces soldier was killed at the border of Niger and Mali on Oct. 4 in the deadliest combat incident since President Trump took office. (WPLG/AP)
Jones-Johnson, speaking to The Post via Facebook Messenger, declined to elaborate.
But asked whether Wilson’s account of the conversation between Trump and the family was accurate, she replied: “Yes.”
The White House did not confirm or deny Wilson’s account on Tuesday.
“The President’s conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private,” a White House official said in a statement.
The White House had said Tuesday that Trump placed calls Tuesday to the families of all four service members killed in Niger on Oct. 4. The calls followed Trump’s claims Monday and Tuesday that his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, had not often made such calls to families. Former Obama administration officials strongly dispute that claim, saying Obama engaged families of fallen service members in various ways throughout his presidency.
President Trump said Wednesday he does not support a bipartisan plan to stabilize Obamacare, saying the deal would bail out insurance companies “who have made a fortune” under Obamacare.
“I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co’s who have made a fortune w/ O’Care,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning, referencing Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co’s who have made a fortune w/ O’Care.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2017
Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top two members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, announced Tuesday a deal to fund insurer payments known as cost-sharing reduction subsidies for two years.
Trump ended the cost-sharing reduction subsidies last week, but he signaled support for the deal from Alexander and Murray during a press conference in the Rose Garden on Tuesday.
“It is a short-term solution, so that we don’t have this very dangerous little period — including dangerous periods for insurance companies,” the president said. “For a period of one year, two years, we will have a very good solution.”
Trump also told reporters he was aware of the negotiations between Alexander and Murray.
“Lamar has been working very, very hard with the Democratic — his colleagues on the other side, and Patty Murray is one of them, in particular,” the president said. “And they’re coming up and they’re very close to a short-term solution. The solution will be for about a year or two years, and it’ll get us over this intermediate hump.”
But hours later, in a speech before conservative donors and policy makers at an event for The Heritage Foundation, Trump appeared to walk back his initial support for the bipartisan deal.
“I’m pleased the Democrats have finally responded to my call for them to take responsibility for their Obamacare disaster and work with Republicans to provide much-needed relief to the American people,” Trump said. “While I commend the bipartisan work done by Senators Alexander and Murray, and I do commend it, I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies.”
Alexander said he spoke with Trump on Wednesday morning about the bipartisan deal, and told attendees of an Axios event in Washington the president “intends to review it carefully and see if he wants to add to it.”
In addition to funding the cost-sharing reduction subsidies for two years, the deal from Alexander and Murray would also allow insurance companies to sell “copper plans” to consumers who are older than 30.
States could also apply for waivers to adjust Obamacare’s rules, and the process for applying for and receiving those waivers from federal officials would be quicker.
The “bailout” label has been attached by several conservatives skeptical of giving billions of dollars to insurers. In 2016, the federal goverment gave out $7 billion in cost-sharing subsidies to insurers.
The subsidies go to insurers to reimburse them for lowering copays and deductibles for low-income Obamacare customers. Insurers are required to lower the out-of-pocket costs for low-income customers so experts predict they will raise premiums for everyone on Obamacare’s exchanges on the individual market, which is used by people that don’t get insurance through a job or the government, to recoup the costs.
The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that premiums could go up nearly 20 percent in 2018.
A federal judge in Maryland early Wednesday issued a second halt on the latest version of President Trump’s travel ban, asserting that the president’s own comments on the campaign trail and on Twitter convinced him that the directive was akin to an unconstitutional Muslim ban.
U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang issued a somewhat less complete halt on the ban than his counterpart in Hawaii did a day earlier, blocking the administration from enforcing the directive only on those who lacked a “bona fide” relationship with a person or entity in the United States, such as family members or some type of professional or other engagement in the United States.
But in some ways, Chuang’s ruling was more personally cutting to Trump, as he said the president’s own words cast his latest attempt to impose a travel blockade as the “inextricable re-animation of the twice-enjoined Muslim ban.”
Omar Jadwat, who directs of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and represented those suing in Maryland over the ban, said: “Like the two versions before it, President Trump’s latest travel ban is still a Muslim ban at its core. And like the two before it, this one is going down to defeat in the courts.”
The third iteration of Trump’s travel ban had been set to go fully into effect early Wednesday, barring various types of travelers from Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Chad, Somalia, North Korea and Venezuela. Even before Chuang’s ruling, though, a federal judge in Hawaii stopped it — at least temporarily — for all of the countries except North Korea and Venezuela.
That judge, Derrick K. Watson, blocked the administration from enforcing the measure on anyone from the six countries, not just those with a “bona fide” U.S. tie. But his ruling did not address whether Trump’s intent in imposing the directive was to discriminate against Muslims. He said the president had merely exceeded the authority Congress had given him in immigration law.
The Justice Department already had vowed to appeal Watson’s ruling, which the White House said “undercuts the President’s efforts to keep the American people safe and enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States.” Both Watson’s temporary restraining order and Chuang’s preliminary injunction are also interim measures, meant to maintain the status quo as the parties continue to argue the case.
The administration had cast the new measure as one that was necessary for national security, implemented only after officials conducted an extensive review of the information they needed to vet those coming to the United States. Those countries that were either unwilling or unable to produce such information even after negotiation, officials have said, were included on the banned list.
“These restrictions are vital to ensuring that foreign nations comply with the minimum security standards required for the integrity of our immigration system and the security of our Nation,” the White House said after Watson’s ruling. “We are therefore confident that the Judiciary will ultimately uphold the President’s lawful and necessary action and swiftly restore its vital protections for the safety of the American people.”
Like Watson’s order, Chuang’s 91-page ruling also found Trump had exceeded his authority under immigration law, but only partially.
The order — which has “no specified end date and no requirement of renewal” — violated a nondiscrimination provision in the law in that it blocked immigrants to the United States based on their nationality, Chuang wrote.
But Chuang said he could not determine, as Watson did, that Trump had violated a different part of federal immigration law requiring him to find entry of certain nonimmigrant travelers would be “detrimental” to U.S. interests before blocking them.
Chuang instead based much of his ruling on his assessment that Trump intended to ban Muslims, and thus his order had run afoul of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. When Trump was a presidential candidate in December 2015, Chuang wrote, he had promised a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” and all of his comments since then seemed to indicate his various travel bans were meant to fulfill that promise.
After his second ban was blocked, Chuang wrote, Trump described the measure as a “watered down version” of his initial measure, adding, “we ought go back to the first one and go all the way, which is what I wanted to do in the first place.” The president had then revoked and replaced his first travel ban, which had also been held up in court.
In August, with courts still weighing the second version, Chuang noted that Trump “endorsed what appears to be an apocryphal story involving General John J. Pershing and a purported massacre of Muslims with bullets dipped in a pig’s blood, advising people to ‘study what General Pershing . . . did to terrorists when caught.’ ”
In September, as authorities worked on a new directive, Trump wrote on Twitter “the travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific — but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!”
Chuang had pressed challengers at a hearing this week on what the government would have to do to make the new ban legal, and he noted in his ruling that the new directive had changed from the previous iterations. The government, for example, had undertaken a review process before inking the new measure, and had added two non-Muslim majority countries to the banned list.
But Chuang wrote that he was unmoved that government had simply relied on the results of their review, and instead believed they made “certain subjective determinations that resulted in a disproportionate impact on majority-Muslim nations.” He wrote that the government offered “no evidence, even in the form of classified information submitted to the Court, showing an intelligence-based terrorism threat justifying a ban on entire nationalities,” and asserted that even the new measure “generally resembles President Trump’s earlier description of the Muslim ban.”
“The ‘initial’ announcement of the Muslim ban, offered repeatedly and explicitly through President Trump’s own statements, forcefully and persuasively expressed his purpose in unequivocal terms,” Chuang wrote.
The suits in federal court in Maryland had been brought by 23 advocacy groups and seven people who said they would be negatively impacted by the new ban.