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Gold Star Widow Says President Trump Didn't Remember Her Husband's Name


This morning, Sergeant La David Johnson's widow, Myeshia Johnson, described her phone call with President Trump. That phone call last week has been the focus of an intense back-and-forth with a Democratic congresswoman who trashed the president's performance in that condolence call. NPR's Mara Liasson joins us from the White House to talk about where this controversy goes from here. Hi, Mara.


SHAPIRO: Let's begin by listening to this clip from ABC's "Good Morning America" where Sergeant Johnson's widow described her call with President Trump.


MYESHIA JOHNSON: The president said that he knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyway. And I was - it made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said it. He couldn't remember my husband's name. The only way he remembered my husband's name because he told me he had my husband's report in front of him. And that's when he actually said La David.

SHAPIRO: Mara, what do you make of this latest account?

LIASSON: If you give everyone the benefit of the doubt here, you can just imagine the scenario. The president perhaps wasn't comfortable. He didn't set out to be disrespectful, but he was repeating the advice that was given to him by his chief of staff, John Kelly, who told him what John Kelly's own condolence officer had told him when he lost his son. It just came out the wrong way. It was awkward. He couldn't get comfortable with Sergeant Johnson's first name even though he had it written on a piece of paper.

That being said, instead of just letting it go, the president tweeted about the widow's interview this morning. He took issue with the tiniest details of what Mrs. Johnson said when she said, quote, "I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband's name, and that's what hurt me the most." Trump lashed back, as is his habit, tweeting, quote, "I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson, spoke his name from the beginning without hesitation." So this president wants to have the last word even in a debate with a Gold Star widow.

SHAPIRO: And the president has been fighting for the last week with Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who initially criticized the president's response in this call. Where does that fight stand?

LIASSON: Yesterday, the president seemed to crow about how the fight with Congresswoman Wilson is good politics for him. He tweeted yesterday morning, quote, "wacky Congresswoman Wilson is the gift that keeps on giving for the Republican Party - a disaster for Democrats. You watch her in action and vote R."

On the other hand, the president had the prime minister of Singapore at the White House today and two opportunities when reporters and cameras were on them at the White House, where reporters shouted questions at him and he didn't take the bait. He didn't answer any questions. The White House seems to have made the decision to try to move beyond this fight.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Seems to have made the decision to move on, but the president is still tweeting about it.

LIASSON: That's true. And he isn't going to stop tweeting. He did an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business, and he defended his use of Twitter. He said he wouldn't be in the White House without Twitter. He told Bartiromo that he puts something out on Twitter, and seconds later, he sees it on TV. Here's what he said.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have a tremendous platform.

MARIA BARTIROMO: So you don't worry.

TRUMP: So when somebody says something about me, I'm able to go bing, bing, bing. And I take care of it.

LIASSON: So there are Republicans who see Trump's Twitter wars as distracting from the legislative agenda. He doesn't see it that way. It's a way to dominate the news cycle, which is one of his metrics for success, and a way to continue to prosecute the culture wars, which is the way he keeps his base fired up and energized.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSE GONZALEZ'S "INSTR.") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.