White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made that headline at today’s briefing after her boss tweeted this morning “I have proof” Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson “fabricated” her claim that Trump told the widow of La David Johnson “I’m sure he knew what he was signed up for, but when it happens, it hurts anyway.” Wilson was in the vehicle with Johnson’s pregnant wife, en route to the airport to receive Johnson’s body, when the call came from Trump.
While no White House recording exists, several people were in the room with Trump as he made the call, including White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly, Sanders said.
Asked if Trump is denying using the words Wilson claimed he had, or if Trump is “just saying she took it the wrong way, out of context,” Sanders deflected, answering multiple people in the president’s vicinity “believed the president was completely respectful, very sympathetic, expressed the condolences of himself and the rest of the country, and thanked the family for their service and commended them for having an American hero in their family.”
“I don’t know how you could take it any other way,” Sanders insisted.
“I’m not getting into the back and forth,” Sanders chided, when pressed. “The sentiment of the president very clear. He took the time to make a call to express his condolences, to thank the family for this individual’s service. And it frankly is a disgrace for the media to try to portray an act of kindness like that, and that gesture, and try to make it into something it isn’t.”
Trump brought up the death of Kelly’s son after getting blowback for his claim during Monday’s Rose Garden press conference that Obama did not call families of fallen soldiers. The press pushed back on that claim, which Trump amended to suggest reporters ask Kelly whether Obama had phoned him when his son was killed.
Asked today if Trump had first cleared that remark with Kelly, who has been intensely private about his family’s loss, Sanders said she was “not sure” if Kelly knew specifically that Trump would make that comment. But, she said, they spoke before Trump made the assertion, and several times since.
“I think General Kelly is disgusted by the way that this has been politicized, and that the focus has become on the process and not the fact American lives were lost. I think he’s disgusted and frustrated by that and, if he has any anger, it’s towards that.”
Sanders took a question from April Ryan, who reported Johnson’s widow said Trump did not know her husband’s name and kept referring to him as “your guy” during the phone call.
“Just because the president said ‘your guy’ I don’t think that means he doesn’t know his name,” Sanders shot back. “As president, the hardest job he has is making calls like that. It is appalling what the congresswoman done, politicizing this issue. This was a president who loves our country very much, who has the greatest level of respect for men and women in uniform, and wanted to call and offer condolences to the family. And to try and create something from that, that the congresswoman is doing is frankly appalling and disgusting.”