WASHINGTON — The congresswoman who represents the home district of a soldier whose body was found two days after an ambush in Niger charged that the incident could “wind up to be Mr. Trump’s Benghazi,” while the president denied making an insensitive remark to the soldier’s widow.
Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Fla., was one of four soldiers killed in the Niger counterterrorism patrol. He and his wife, Myeshia Johnson, met when they were just 6 years old. They have a 2-year-old, a 6-year-old and a baby on the way.
Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) told CNN on Tuesday night that she was in the limousine with Johnson’s family as they headed to the airport to receive the sergeant’s body. “So I heard what he said because the phone was on speaker,” she said.
“Basically he said, ‘well, I guess he knew what he signed up for. But I guess it still hurt.’ That’s what he said,” the congresswoman described. “He knew what he was signing up for.”
“This is a young, young woman who has two children, who is 6 months pregnant with a third child. She has just lost her husband. She was just told that he cannot have an open-casket funeral, which gives her all kinds of nightmares how his body must look, how his face must look. And this is what the president of the United States says to her?”
The White House said Tuesday night that conversations between the president and family members of the fallen are private conversations.
“There’s no reason for the president to be so insensitive. Not only to the family of this soldier but the impervious rhetoric, you know, it’s disrespectful to the family of every soldier that has paid the ultimate price for our freedom,” Wilson said. “And our community is livid. Because this was our hero. We don’t have many heroes in our young men in Miami-Dade County. But he was a hero for us. And we don’t like what was said. And that is not something that you say to a grieving wife.”
The reaction of Johnson’s widow, according to the congresswoman, was, “She was just crying. She couldn’t say anything. The only thing she said when it was time to hang up was, thank you, bye-bye.”
Trump tweeted in response this morning, “Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!”
Wilson told CNN, “Well I don’t know what kind of proof he could be talking about. I’m not the only person that was in the car. And I have proof too. This man is a sick man. He’s cold-hearted and he feels no pity or sympathy for anyone.”
“This is a grieving widow, a grieving widow who is 6 months pregnant,” she added. “…And when she actually hung up the phone she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even know his name.’ Now that’s the worst part. …It’s disgraceful for him to even tweet about this. And as I say, this gentleman has a brain disorder and he needs to be checked out.”
Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Wash., Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio, and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga., were killed Oct. 4 as three of a dozen U.S. soldiers accompanying a few dozen Nigerien soldiers on a routine patrol.
On Oct. 6, the body of Johnson, who had been listed as missing after the attack, was recovered by Nigerien forces. The next day, Johnson’s remains arrived at Dover. On Tuesday, he was flown home to Florida.
Wilson said Johnson’s family is upset “because they don’t know why he was separated from the rest of the soldiers.”
“This could turn out to be another Benghazi. And I have asked for an investigation. Representative Hastings of Fort Lauderdale and I have sent a letter. And we want to find out exactly what happened. And I’m expecting a classified briefing when I return to Washington to answer some of those mitigating questioning that I can’t answer on my own,” she said.
This morning, the congresswoman said, “It doesn’t seem as if they had sufficient cover. It doesn’t seem they had sufficient vehicles, the appropriate armored cars. It seems as if they were outnumbered. It seems as if he was missing for 24 hours. But his transmitter was still beeping. And it seems as if they could have found him. This might wind up to be Mr. Trump’s Benghazi. So he needs to investigate this very, very closely. Because I will be making sure that Congress does that.”
One of the questions, Wilson said, is whether the terrorists behind the ambush captured Johnson and held him for a time before killing him.
More than $328,000 was raised overnight to go toward a scholarship fund for Johnson’s three children.