Donald Trump last week dodged a question about the deadliest combat mission of his presidency last week, and instead touched off a week-long controversy. David Petraeus told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz yesterday that he’s known White House Chief of Staff John Kelly for years, and he assumes Kelly is “trying to figure out how to turn down the volume, how to get this behind us.”
I get the sense Kelly’s boss has other plans.Today’s developments started with a striking interview with the widow of one of the four American soldiers killed earlier this month in Niger, an attack the president still hasn’t acknowledged.
The pregnant widow of Sgt. La David Johnson said Monday that the phone call she received from President Donald Trump before meeting her husband’s body at Dover Air Force Base made her more upset as the president struggled to remember her spouse’s name.
“I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband’s name, and that’s what hurt me the most because if my husband is out there fighting for our country and he risked his life for our country, why can’t you remember his name?” Myeshia Johnson told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “And that made me cry even more.”
Soon after the ABC segment aired, Trump turned to Twitter to declare, “I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!”
So, the president wants us to believe his version of events, rejecting the word of a grieving widow – who’s account is bolstered by a car full of witnesses, who heard the conversation on speaker. Or put another way, Trump’s message of the morning is that Myeshia Johnson is lying.
And that leads me to two questions for the White House to consider.
1. Last week, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was “highly inappropriate” to question the word of a retired four-star general (who’d been caught lying). Is it also “highly inappropriate” to question the word of a Gold Star family that has vastly more credibility than a president with a track record of breathtaking mendacity?
2. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, himself a Gold Star parent, said last week that Gold Star families should be seen as “sacred.” With this in mind, is Kelly comfortable with Trump’s pushback against Myeshia Johnson?
As this story has unfolded, it’s become increasingly dejecting. The president and his team have, over the course of just seven days, lied about other presidents’ interactions with fallen soldiers’ loved ones, lied about the number of families Trump has personally contacted, lied (more than once) about a Democratic congresswoman who’s close to the Johnson family, repeatedly insulted the Democratic congresswoman, and failed to acknowledge any of the White House’s collective missteps.
It’s against this backdrop that Donald Trump thought it’d be a good idea to question the word of Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow – two days after the fallen soldier’s funeral.
I’ve seen the president go after all kinds of people, places, and things, but I didn’t expect him to target someone in Myeshia Johnson’s position.