This was not a typical “he said, she said.”
The “he” was Donald J. Trump, 45th president of the United States, the commander in chief, and traditionally, the nation’s unifier and in time of war, chief comforter and consoler.
That’s what President Trump was initially trying to do when he telephoned the “she” in question, Myeshia Johnson, widow of the fallen Green Beret Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed October 4th in a deadly ambush in Niger.
But his words came out wrong. President Trump apparently didn’t know what to say or how to say it. So Mrs. Johnson wound up crying. The president seemed not to remember her husband’s name, she later said. She had not been able to get information about how her husband had died or why she was not permitted to see his remains.
Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, who had known the Johnson family since La David was in elementary school, criticized President Trump for his words and tone.
He slammed back on Twitter, calling her “wacky” and her account “completely fabricated.” He had “proof,” he said, still undisclosed. He had done more than any other president to console relatives of the fallen. Previous presidents had not called the families of American soldiers killed in action, he asserted inaccurately.
White House chief of Staff John Kelly, the father of a Marine killed in action, then joined the appalling fray.
In an emotional appearance in the White House press room, he called Rep. Wilson an “empty barrel” for having listened in on the president’s call and misrepresented her description of having helped get $20 million for an FBI building in Florida.
Gen. Kelly, who has spoken only rarely in public about the loss of his son, did so in his boss’s defense. What the president told Mrs. Johnson was the same message that had given him some solace when he was told of his own son’s death, he recalled. But a president had not called to deliver it. His son had died doing what he loved, surrounded by men he loved, defending their country, Gen. Kelly told the silent reporters.
The sorry spectacle might have ended there had Mrs. Johnson not spoken to ABC News in defense of Congresswoman Wilson. She supported her friend’s version of the now infamous phone call, which she said she had asked to be put on a speaker phone when it came in.
Rather than let the matter die, President Trump lashed back on Twitter Monday morning. He had conducted a “very respectful conversation” with her, he insisted, and had spoken her husband’s name “from beginning, without hesitation.” Contradicting Mrs. Johnson's account.
Twitter exploded with rage, and not just from angry Democrats and liberals. “Just apologize,” tweeted Charlie Sykes, Mr. Trump’s conservative nemesis. “That’s what real men do. “That’s what someone with a drop of empathy would do.”
But of course President Trump has not done that. He did not apologize for having attacked Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Pakistani immigrant parents of a soldier killed in Iraq in 2004, after they opposed his campaign call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S.
Nor did he apologize for having mocked Senator John McCain for having been captured by the North Vietnamese and held for years. Instead, the president who received multiple Vietnam draft deferments boasted in tweets about his own “sacrifices” – that is, having worked “very very hard” in real estate.
Donald Trump never apologizes. After all, he won the presidency through such deplorable assaults on far nobler Americans.
Rather than let the controversy die, he chose to inflame it.
If we needed a reminder of his lack of moral compassion or leadership, Donald Trump has provided it, yet again.