Even with Donald Trump‘s steady denial that he ever called U.S. military soldiers killed in combat “suckers” and “losers” — as first reported in the Atlantic and co-signed by a former senior administration official — the truth of the matter is that the president has a long and detailed history of disrespecting American servicemen, especially those who have died for their country. Case in point: Army Sgt. La David Johnson.
And while no one can forget the way Trump maliciously mocked the late Sen. John McCain in death for having been a prisoner of war in Vietnam — “I like people who weren’t captured” — it just hits a little different when the president mixes his special brand of racism with his disrespect for veterans killed in action.
That certainly seemed to be the case nearly three years ago in an unfortunate episode when Trump denied telling Sgt. Johnson’s widow — Myeshia Johnson — that her husband “must’ve known what he signed up for” when he enlisted in the armed forces before being killed in the line of duty.
But Myeshia Johnson, who was pregnant at the time with their third child, had a sitting member of Congress listening to the condolence phone call on which Trump all but shrugged at the notion of a widow grieving her soldier husband’s death in combat. Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson was in the same vehicle with Myeshia Johnson when Trump called and later confirmed Trump’s callous comments.
Prior to Wilson telling the media about Trump’s remarks, the president had not made any public comment about La David Johnson 25, of Miami, and three other U.S. service members killed in an ambush by militants during a train-and-advise mission in Niger on Oct. 4, 2017.
A report on the Pentagon’s investigation into the ambush said Johnson was captured after being hit by enemy fire up to 18 times while taking cover in thick brush. A news report from Tongo Tongo, the village near the location of the ambush, said that villagers discovered Johnson’s body with his hands tied behind his back and the back of his head smashed. An earlier media report blamed poor planning, a lack of military intelligence and reckless behavior by U.S. Special Forces in Africa for what was described as a military “fiasco.” The U.S. soldiers, lightly armed, were overpowered in an area that was a stronghold of the militants.
Trump’s disrespectful reaction to Johnson’s death ended up making the headlines as the president, once again, tried to center the news cycle on himself regardless of the circumstances or stakes. He denied all the reports and called Myeshia Johnson and Wilson liars in the face of growing evidence that it was he who was not telling the truth — again.
An ironic aspect of the fallout from the piece about Trump calling fallen soldiers “suckers” and “losers” is its inclusion of General John Kelly, the Iraq War hero and former White House chief of staff who people are calling on to confirm the Atlantic’s report. Kelly — who once disregarded slavery as a cause of the Civil War and praised Confederate General Robert E. Lee during an interview with Fox News — is the same person who seemingly confirmed that the president did callously tell Myeshia Johnson that her soldier husband “knew what he had signed up for” before dying in action.
Trump, of course, denied the claim, insisting in a tweet that he had “proof” he never said that. Kelly would later, perhaps inadvertently, indicate that there was actually no proof at all, exposing another Trump lie. The concession was taken as all but a confirmation that Trump did indeed make the callous remark to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, whose name the president was accused of not even knowing during the phone call.
Meanwhile, the wife of a soldier who was killed with Johnson in the Niger ambush — both of whom are white — said she was comforted by Trump’s “gracious” call in the days after her Special Forces husband Bryan Black’s death.
Nearly a year later, Omarosa Manigault Newman said she made a secret recording on Oct. 27, 2017, when Trump walked into a meeting of the White House communications team and began discussing the Niger situation with staff members who lacked the security clearance to discuss the matter. Trump and his staffers are heard laughing on the recording, said the president’s former aide who was famously — and allegedly — was fired by Kelly, who ordered her “escorted” out of the White House.
“You have to question how seriously he takes the people who put their lives on the line for this country,” Newman said at the time as she promoting her tell-all book about Trump that includes an allegation that the president used the N-word.
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