Overnight Defense: Firestorm erupts over Trump call to slain soldier’s widow – The Hill

THE TOPLINE: The controversy surrounding President Trump’s response to the attack in Niger intensified Wednesday — this time over comments he is said to have made during a phone call with one of the fallen soldiers’ widow.

Trump called the families of the soldiers Tuesday, and that night, a Democratic congresswoman who was with Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow claimed that Trump told widow Myeshia Johnson that the soldier “knew what he signed up for.”

On Wednesday morning, Trump ripped into the congresswoman, Rep. Frederica WilsonFrederica WilsonOvernight Health Care: Senate won’t vote on ObamaCare repeal bill | GOP chairman ready to resume bipartisan talks | Republicans nix idea of pairing repeal with tax reformFla. lawmaker warned officials before retirement home tragedyFlorida Dem: ‘Abomination’ that seniors were left at nursing home where 8 diedMORE (D-Fla.), saying on Twitter that her account of what happened was “totally fabricated” and claiming to have proof.

But the mother of the soldier then backed up Wilson’s account to The Washington Post.

“President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband,” Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told the Post.

Both Wilson and Trump also doubled down on their claims.

 

WHITE HOUSE SAYS CALL NOT RECORDED: Wednesday’s press briefing by Sarah Huckabee Sanders was also consumed by the controversy.

And despite Trump’s claim to have proof backing up his side, Sanders said the call with Myeshia Johnson was not recorded.

But she said several people including Chief of Staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE were in the room.

“No,” she said when asked if there is a recording. “But there were several people in the room from the administration on the call,” including Kelly, she said.

Sanders later added that Kelly, whose son was killed in action in 2010, supported the president’s comments.

“Gen. Kelly was present for the call and thought it was completely appropriate. He thought the call was respectful and he thought that the president did the best job he could under those circumstances to offer condolences on the part of the country,” she said.

The Hill’s Jordan Fabian has more here.

 

CRITICISM OVER TRUMP INVOKING KELLY’S SON: The White House on Wednesday defended President Trump’s decision to invoke the combat death of his chief of staff’s son as part of his claim that he’s been more responsive to the families of fallen soldiers than other presidents.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that she doesn’t know if Trump warned chief of staff John Kelly before bringing up his son in an interview.

“I think that Gen. Kelly is disgusted by the way that this has been politicized and that the focus has become on the process and not the fact that American lives were lost,” Sanders said at the White House press briefing.

“I think he’s disgusted and frustrated by that,” she said. “If he has any anger, it’s towards that.”

The Hill’s Ben Kamisar has more here.

 

DETAILS ON OTHER TRUMP CALLS EMERGE: Several other Gold Star family members spoke to news outlets Wednesday about calls they’ve had with Trump or the lack of a call after their relative was killed in action.

Chris Baldridge, whose son was killed in Afghanistan in June, told The Washington Post that Trump offered to personally give him $25,000 after learning the military’s survivor benefits would be going to his ex-wife. But Baldridge told the Post that he still has not received a check from the president.

Meanwhile, another father of a soldier killed in Iraq told the Post that he wants to create a Twitter account just to call Trump a “damn liar” because he hasn’t heard from the president after his son’s death.

Two other families also told The Associated Press that they never heard from Trump despite his claim that he’s called every family of slain troops since taking office.

 

IN OTHER NEWS … MATTIS SAYS ‘NOW IS THE TIME’ FOR BASE CLOSURES: A new Pentagon analysis found that the Pentagon has about 19 percent excess infrastructure, and Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Tillerson, Trump deny report of rift | Tillerson says he never considered resigning | Trump expresses ‘total confidence’ in secretary | Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point gradRubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist postsTrump, honor Obama’s agreement to release Guantanamo detaineeMORE is urging Congress to give him the power to close it.

The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell reports:

Mattis is urging Congress to allow a long-desired round of military base closures after a new report to lawmakers found that nearly one-fifth of Department of Defense (DOD) facilities are unneeded.

Mattis, in a newly released letter to leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees — which handle defense matters — argues a new round of Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) talks is the only “fair, objective and proven process” to evaluate the value — or lack thereof — of such military facilities.

“Every unnecessary facility we maintain requires us to cut capabilities elsewhere,” Mattis wrote in the Oct. 6 letter, which accompanied a report that found about 19 percent of Pentagon-owned buildings are excess infrastructure.

“I must be able to eliminate excess infrastructure in order to shift resources to readiness and modernization,” he wrote.

Read the rest here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the Food for Peace program at 10:30 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. http://bit.ly/2yyCQb2

 

ICYMI:

— The Hill: Bergdahl lawyers renew efforts to have case tossed over Trump comments

— The Hill: Ex-Obama, Bush officials spar over credit for ISIS fall in Raqqa

— The Hill: Senators demand info on deadly Niger ambush

— The Hill: Opinion: Iran is violating the deal, by Alan Dershowitz

— The Hill: Opinion: In nuclear deal debate, Iran knows Congress, US allies are on its side, by Simon Palamar, the Centre for International Governance Innovation

— The New York Times: The life and death of a Raqqa landmark

— Roll Call: Contrary to rhetoric, military mishaps have been declining

Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Kheel, [email protected], and Ellen Mitchell, [email protected].

Follow us on Twitter: @thehill@Rebecca_H_K@EllenMitchell23

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