A condolence call backfires, and Trump turns it into a fight he can’t win



Donald Trump speaks on October 26, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

President Donald Trump had absolutely no political points to score by winning a fight against a Gold Star widow, so why engage? His backfired attempt to comfort Myeshia Johnson over the Oct. 4 death in Niger of her husband, Army Special Forces Sgt. La David Johnson, made a mockery of simple human compassion.

The widow, a pregnant mother of two, now fumes in anger. And, as is typical of Trump, he has turned the controversy over a botched condolence call into a childish public feud via Twitter.

Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, added to the furor by attacking a congresswomen who had been sitting with the widow when Trump phoned. Is the White House so desperate for a victory that it would stoop this low?


During the call, Mrs. Johnson says, Trump struggled with the sergeant’s name, referring to him as “your guy.” He told the widow that Sgt. Johnson “knew what he signed up for.”

“It made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said it,” Myeshia Johnson told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday. “He couldn’t remember my husband’s name.”

Kelly, speaking to reporters Thursday, did not dispute this account, even though Trump does. Kelly made a good-faith attempt to deflect the negative attention on Trump by explaining the difficulty of making condolence calls. He told Trump ahead of time, “Sir, there’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families.”

Kelly, a retired Marine general, spoke from experience. He related to Trump his own grief when his son, a Marine lieutenant, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. Kelly’s close friend, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, told him at the time: “He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent” of Americans who volunteer for military service. “He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war.”

If only Kelly had stopped there. His heartfelt explanation might have defused the controversy and helped explain why Trump chose the words he did. But Kelly opted to go on the attack against Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Florida, for having listened in on the “sacred” condolence call and then going on television to criticize Trump. Trump labeled Wilson, a longtime family friend of the Johnsons, “wacky” and dishonest.

No outsider had any business eavesdropping, Kelly said, ignoring the fact that he also had listened in on Trump’s side.

This is the kind of mess that only a compassion-challenged person like Trump could create. His attitude — that he can do no wrong and, therefore, never needs to apologize — might help him in some political contexts. In this one, it only makes him look pathetic.



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