Once again, President Donald Trump has taken what should be a solemn occasion and turned it into political theater. Unfortunately for Trump, he won’t win any Academy Awards for his performance.
On October 4, Sgt. La David Johnson and three other Green Berets were ambushed and killed in Niger. Only a dozen years ago, my daughter Rebecca served 27 months as a Peace Corp volunteer in Niger. Shortly after she left, the Peace Corps shut down its operations in Niger due to increased terrorist activity.
For almost a week after the deaths, President Trump made no mention of the tragedy in Niger. When asked about the incident at a press conference, Trump said that, unlike prior presidents, he calls the families of all fallen soldiers.
In fact, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, were upset by Trump’s statement. In addition, it turned out that Trump had not yet called the families of the four Green Berets.
Sgt. Johnson, from Miami, had previously participated in the 5000 Role Models program for at-risk boys established by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who represents the 24th congressional district in Miami. That was the start of a long-term relationship between Sgt. Johnson, his wife and Wilson.
That was why Wilson was riding in the car with Mrs. Myeshia Johnson on the way to pick up her husband’s body when Trump finally called Mrs. Johnson.
Mrs. Johnson asked the military escort to put the call on speakerphone so other relatives could here what the president had to say. Wilson was not eavesdropping on the call as General John Kelly, chief of staff, alleged.
According to Mrs Johnson and Wilson, the president did not seem to know Sgt. Johnson’s first name and he told Mrs. Johnson that he “knew what he signed up for. . . “
President Trump accused, via Twitter, Wilson of totally fabricating “what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!” Trump later tweeted that Wilson was “wacky” and contended that she is “killing her party.”
Kelly compounded the problem when he alleged that Wilson claimed she was instrumental in getting funding for a new FBI building in Miami instead of focusing on the two slain agents for whom it was named. A videotape of her speech showed that Kelly’s comments were inaccurate.
Wilson has represented Florida’s 23rd Congressional District since 2010. She previously served in the Florida House (1998-2002) and Senate (2002-2010).
Wilson is best known for having a large collection of colorful hats which she wears every day. Press secretary Sarah Sanders alluded to Wilson’s hats when she accused Wilson of being “all hat and no cattle.”
Further complicating the issue was a statement made Sanders, who criticized reporters for attacking Kelly. “If you want to get into a debate with a four-star general, I think that’s highly inappropriate.” Since when did generals get immunity for what they say?
I see three apologies that need to be made. Trump needs to apologize to Mrs. Johnson, even if it is merely to say his statements were misconstrued and he honors the sacrifice of her husband.
Kelly should apologize to Wilson because his accusations cannot be substantiated by the evidence.
Finally, Sanders should apologize to the media for telling them to not be critical of a four-star general.
Since Trump is on record as saying he has never asked for forgiveness in prayer, one cannot expect him to ever apologize. Kelly and Sanders still have a chance to correct the record and make amends. I hope they do.
Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.