Trump’s Condolence Call to Soldier’s Widow Erupts Into Vicious Battle – New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s condolence call to the widow of a slain soldier exploded into a vicious row that swamped the White House on Wednesday, with the soldier’s grieving mother accusing the president of disrespecting her family and a defiant Mr. Trump complaining that his words had been cynically twisted for political purposes.

The back-and-forth made a furious spectacle of what is, at the best of times, one of the most emotionally wrenching contacts between the commander in chief and a bereaved citizen. It overshadowed any talk of Mr. Trump’s legislative priorities and instead recalled his history of feuding with military families or even, as in the case of Senator John McCain, a war hero.

Twelve days after four Americans were killed in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger, the president called the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was among the slain, and said that her husband “knew what he signed up for,” referring to the soldier only as “your guy,” according to Sergeant Johnson’s mother and a Democratic congresswoman, who both listened to the call.

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Mr. Trump angrily disputed that account, insisting that he “had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife, who sounded like a lovely woman.” The White House accused the congresswoman, Frederica S. Wilson of Florida, of politicizing a sacred ritual after Mr. Trump initially said she “fabricated” it.

It was, to a great extent, a self-inflicted wound. Mr. Trump opened the issue on Monday when he deflected a question about why he had not spoken publicly about the deaths of the four soldiers by falsely accusing his predecessor, President Barack Obama, of not contacting the families of fallen troops.

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump dragged his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, into the dispute. He told reporters that Mr. Obama had not called Mr. Kelly, a former Marine Corps general, when his son Second Lt. Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in action in Afghanistan. Mr. Kelly, who has long been reluctant to talk about the loss of his son, did not comment on the issue.

But the White House presented Mr. Kelly as a character witness on Wednesday, noting that he was present for Mr. Trump’s call on Tuesday afternoon to Sergeant Johnson’s wife, Myeshia Johnson, and viewed it as a respectful expression of presidential sympathies.

“He thought that the president did the best job he could under those circumstances to offer condolences on behalf of the country,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary. She said Mr. Kelly is “disgusted by the way this has been politicized, and that the focus has become on the process and not the fact that American lives were lost.”

It was Mr. Trump, however, who first put a spotlight on politics and process by comparing his practices to those of Mr. Obama and other presidents. Mr. Obama did, in fact, call or meet with the families of multiple fallen soldiers, though he sent letters to many others. Mr. Trump said he planned to call as many families of fallen soldiers as was “appropriate.”

His call to Ms. Johnson came as she and her two young children were in a limousine at Miami International Airport awaiting a plane carrying the remains of Sergeant Johnson. Mr. Trump spoke for three to five minutes, said Ms. Wilson.

“When she got off the phone, she said, ‘He didn’t even know his name. He kept calling him, ‘Your guy,’” Ms. Wilson said of Ms. Johnson. “He was calling the fallen soldier, ‘your guy.’ And he never said his name because he did not know his name. So he kept saying, ‘Your guy. Your guy. Your guy.’ And that was devastating to her.”

Mr. Trump flatly dismissed Ms. Wilson’s account and suggested he would produce evidence to discredit it.

“Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!” he wrote in an early morning Twitter post. He repeated his denial hours later, before a White House meeting with senators. “I didn’t say what that congresswoman said,” the president said. “Didn’t say it at all, she knows it.”

Ms. Wilson quickly fired back on Twitter. “I still stand by my account of the call b/t @realDonaldTrump and Myeshia Johnson. That is her name, Mr. Trump. Not ‘the woman’ or ‘the wife’” she wrote in a post.

Sergeant Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, backed the congresswoman’s version. “Yes, he did state that comment,” Ms. Jones-Johnson said, via message on Facebook, of Mr. Trump’s remark that her son “knew what he signed up for.”

By midafternoon, the White House was no longer disputing Ms. Wilson’s account of Mr. Trump’s choice of words. Ms. Sanders said the White House did not tape the call. But she said Ms. Wilson had willfully mischaracterized the spirit of the conversation.

“This is a president who loves our country very much, who has the greatest level of respect for men and women in uniform, and wanted to call and offer condolences to the family,” Ms. Sanders said. “To try to create something from that, that the congresswoman is doing, is frankly appalling and disgusting.”

The dispute over Mr. Trump’s condolence call topped several contentious issues that marked yet another rancorous day at the White House.

The president kept up his feud with the National Football League over players who take a knee in protest during the playing of the national anthem. And he revived his unproven charges that the former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had lied, leaked information and protected Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump’s opponent in last year’s presidential election.

But the way Mr. Trump has handled grieving military families loomed over all, and thrust the sensitive issue of how presidents deal with the casualties of war to center-stage. His reference to Mr. Obama’s lack of calls also drew furious responses from the former president’s aides and expressions of discomfort from former military commanders.

The feud with Sergeant Johnson’s family was reminiscent of a public fight Mr. Trump began with the parents of a Muslim American soldier, Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004. The soldier’s parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, appeared at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, where Mr. Khan criticized Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump’s fraught relationship with Gold Star families — those who have lost relatives in war — took another turn with the White House’s disclosure on Wednesday that it had sent a check for $25,000 to Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, who was shot to death by an Afghan police officer, along with two other American soldiers, in June.

Mr. Trump had promised the check to Sergeant Baldridge’s father, Chris, in a phone call a few weeks after his son’s death, according to The Washington Post. But the president did not send the money until the newspaper inquired about it on Wednesday.

Some experts sympathized with the challenge Mr. Trump faced in placing condolence calls.

“It’s always been difficult for presidents,” said Peter D. Feaver, an expert in civilian-military relations at Duke University, “but in some ways it’s become more difficult as the number of casualties dwindled, so each one can be individualized to a much greater extent.”

That task, Mr. Feaver said, is even harder when the call does not go well because “the family member has an ax to grind, and wants to grind it on the face of the president.”

Other calls Mr. Trump has made to families have been well received. The president called Eddie Lee, the father of First Lt. Weston C. Lee, who was killed in April by a roadside bomb in Iraq, and told him, “I bet he never gave you a minute’s trouble as a child.”

“It’s true,” Mr. Lee said, chuckling, “he didn’t.”

“The president was just so nice and caring, you could hear it in his voice, you could tell what a caring family man he is,” said Mr. Lee, who volunteered “I voted for Trump and I’d vote for him again.”

But the president’s call to Sergeant Johnson’s widow illustrated the pitfalls to his improvisational approach, according to other experts. Kori Schake, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University who specializes in civilian-military relations, said the account of Mr. Trump’s call suggested he did not follow the “time-honored rituals” of such calls.

“My guess is that he thought he was showing respect for the toughness and patriotism of people who sacrifice for something bigger than themselves, and just did it clumsily,” Ms. Schake said.

Correction: October 18, 2017

An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to Sgt. La David T. Johnson. He was serving in Africa with an Army Special Forces unit; he was not a Green Beret.

Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting.

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Suspect in shootings of 6 in Maryland and Delaware caught, officials say – Washington Post

A shooting suspect who was the focus of a day-long manhunt was arrested Wednesday evening, hours after, police said, he opened fire on his co-workers in Maryland, killing three and wounding two, and then drove 50 miles to his home state of Delaware, where he gunned down an acquaintance.

The deadly mayhem, which unfolded in less than two hours, began shortly before 9 a.m. Wednesday when the gunman, identified by police as Radee Labeeb Prince, 37, shot five employees at Advanced Granite Solutions, in a business park in Edgewood, about 40 miles northeast of Baltimore, authorities said. They said that three of those victims died and that the others were hospitalized in critical condition.

The gunman then drove to a used-car dealership in Wilmington, Del., where he shot an acquaintance in the head and body, probably with the same handgun he used in Maryland, Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy said. That victim survived.

Officers who responded to a report of gunshots at the dealership were tending to the victim when they saw Prince, a Wilmington resident, driving away in a black 2008 GMC Acadia with Delaware license plates, Tracy said.

“We were able to give a short chase but lost the vehicle,” the chief said at a news briefing late Wednesday afternoon, hours after the 10:46 a.m. shooting.

An intensive search for Prince, involving numerous police officers in the Mid-Atlantic region as well as federal agents, ended in the early evening, according to the Sheriff’s Office in Harford County, where the fatal shootings occurred.

“Prince was apprehended a short time ago in Delaware by ATF and allied law enforcement agencies,” the office announced on Twitter shortly before 7:30 p.m., referring to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

No details of the arrest were immediately available. About an hour before Prince was taken into custody, police said, his GMC Acadia was found unoccupied in Delaware, outside Wilmington, but they would not say exactly where.

If investigators know of a motive for the shootings, they were keeping it to themselves Wednesday. But they stressed that Prince knew the victims and that the attacks were “targeted,” not random.

“My suspicion is that if he could have shot more individuals, this incident would have resulted in a greater loss of life,” Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler told reporters after the gunfire at Advanced Granite Solutions, which makes and installs granite counter tops. Prince, who had worked there for about four months, has a long arrest record — mainly for nonviolent crimes — but relatively few convictions, according to police officials and online court records.

According to Gahler, Prince was scheduled to work Wednesday in Maryland.

In Delaware, Tracy said: “I don’t know what goes through people’s minds. There could be something that’s going on at that workplace,” meaning Advanced Granite. As for the Wilmington victim’s association with Prince, the chief said: “They’ve had beefs. . . . They’ve had some past history on criminal cases.” He declined to elaborate.

Karen Flowers, 51, of Wilmington said in an interview that she has known Prince since he was a child. He was raised by caring parents, she said, including a strict father.

“It’s not like he came from a bad home,” Flowers said Wednesday evening, standing outside 28th Street Auto Sales & Service, site of the Wilmington shooting. “I’m trying to find out what the hell happened . . . that triggered him to do this.”

She said, “He just snapped.”

At the Emmorton Business Park, where the Maryland killings occurred, people were running in and out of Advanced Granite when William Earp, 56, pulled up Wednesday morning in his ­tractor-trailer rig. Amid the chaotic scene, Earp said, he walked toward the building and was told about the fatal shootings.

At the door, a woman said, “There’s blood everywhere,” Earp, of Abingdon, Md., recalled in an interview. Around the woman, other people seemed to be panicking, he said. He said he saw one man leaning against the hood of a car crying.

“They were all running back and forth,” he said. “They were just petrified.”

Jackie Holsopple, general manager of the Red Roof Inn hotel across the street from Advanced Granite, said she was working at her computer when she heard sirens.

A housekeeper standing outside told her, “You should come out here and look at this.”

Holsopple said that she went out and that within minutes, police officers were pouring into the area. One walked up to Holsopple and a group standing with her.

“There’s an active shooter,” the officer told her. “You should go inside and stay inside.”

At an outdoor prayer vigil Wednesday evening, Advanced Granite’s manager, Ibrahim Kucuk, appeared shaken. His hands trembled as he held a sheet of paper on which he had written his thoughts: “Words cannot express our shock and sadness. We are a small business and we know each employee intimately. We have worked together with these wonderful people for years in a peaceful setting. We will be here to support their families and to grieve with them.”

On its Facebook page, the company posted an image Wednesday of three candles, for its slain employees, with the message: “Praying that God grants peace to the soul of our dearly departed.”

Police did not immediately provide the names any of the six victims. A man who identified himself as an employee of 28th Street Auto Sales, where the Wilmington shooting occurred, said by phone that he was at a hospital with the wounded man and would not answer questions.

Wednesday’s shootings in Maryland were not Prince’s first alleged incident of workplace violence, court documents show. In February, the owner of another countertop company, JPS Marble and Granite, filed a petition in Harford County District Court, asking a judge to order Prince to stay away from him.

“I fired him for punching another employee on the face,” the owner said in the petition, which was denied for lack of evidence. “He came back to our business justifying what he did was right because the other guy was saying some things that he did not like. I still did not take him back after about three times that he went to me.”

After the owner got an official letter notifying him that Prince was seeking unemployment benefits, “we responded that he was fired & already working for another company.” The owner said Prince then visited again and “cursed & yelled at me about unemployment benefits. I felt very threatened because he is a big guy & very aggressive on me.”

The owner added, “He did not hurt me physically, but I do not want to wait ’till he will.”

Steve Chetelat, the manager of K.C. Flooring, near Advanced Granite, said he was outside his business, washing the front windows, when he heard a commotion.

“I heard the most blood­curdling screams and hollering,” Chetelat said.

He looked back, across the street, to the rear of Advance Granite, where slabs of granite are stored. He said he could not see what was happening because of two large trees. But to him it sounded as if several people were arguing. He said he did not hear anything that sounded like gunshots.

Minutes later, police officers swarmed the area. “Get back in and lock up,” one of the officers ordered. “The gun man is still on the loose.”

Larry Hunt, manager of R.E. Michel Co., a heating and air conditioning parts business near Advanced Granite, said he and other employees were outside talking to a customer about 9 a.m. when they also heard the loud arguing.

Hunt, who did not hear gunshots, said that suddenly emergency vehicles came toward them with sirens on, and employees were ordered to go inside and stay there.

By 10:15 a.m., Hunt said, he and six customers and employees were locked inside the heating and air conditioning store and could see first responders outside.

“We were very nervous,” Hunt said.

Justin Wm. Moyer, Perry Stein, Magda Jean-Louis, Lynh Bui, Ellie Silverman and Michael E. Ruane contributed to this report.

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Trump offered a grieving military father $25000 in a phone call – Washington Post

President Trump, in a personal phone call to a grieving military father, offered him $25,000 and said he would direct his staff to establish an online fundraiser for the family, but neither happened, the father said.

Chris Baldridge, the father of Army Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, said that Trump called him at his home in Zebulon, N.C., a few weeks after his 22-year-old son and two fellow soldiers were fatally shot by an Afghan police officer on June 10. Their phone conversation lasted about 15 minutes, Baldridge said, and centered for a time on the father’s struggle with the manner in which his son was killed — shot by someone he was training.

“I said, ‘Me and my wife would rather our son died in trench warfare,’ ” Baldridge said. “I feel like he got murdered over there.”

Trump’s offer of $25,000 adds a dimension to his relationships with Gold Star families, and the disclosure follows questions about how often the president has called or written to the parents or spouses of those killed.

The Washington Post contacted the White House about Baldridge’s account on Wednesday morning. Officials declined to discuss the events in detail.

But in a statement Wednesday afternoon, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said: “The check has been sent. It’s disgusting that the media is taking something that should be recognized as a generous and sincere gesture, made privately by the President, and using it to advance the media’s biased agenda.”

It took 18 months for President Barack Obama to fulfill a similar promise made to the family of Kayla Mueller, who was killed in 2015 while she was held captive by the Islamic State in Syria. Obama’s undisclosed sum, for a charity set up in Mueller’s name, arrived only after a report by ABC News called attention to what the president later described as an oversight.

[12 days of silence: How Trump handled the deadliest combat incident of his presidency]

Trump said this week that he has “called every family of somebody that’s died, and it’s the hardest call to make.” At least 20 Americans have been killed in action since he became commander in chief in January. The Post interviewed the families of 13. About half had received phone calls, they said. The others said they had not heard from the president.

In his call with Trump, Baldridge, a construction worker, expressed frustration with the military’s survivor benefits program. Because his ex-wife was listed as their son’s beneficiary, she was expected to receive the Pentagon’s $100,000 death gratuity — even though “I can barely rub two nickels together,” he told Trump.

The president’s response shocked him.

“He said, ‘I’m going to write you a check out of my personal account for $25,000,’ and I was just floored,” Baldridge said. “I could not believe he was saying that, and I wish I had it recorded because the man did say this. He said, ‘No other president has ever done something like this,’ but he said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ ”

The president has been on the defensive since details emerged of his phone call Tuesday with the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed Oct. 4 along with three other U.S. soldiers in Niger. After not addressing the incident for 12 days, Trump on Monday falsely claimed that previous presidents never or rarely called the families of fallen service members. In fact, they did so regularly.

White House officials circulated a statement of sympathy for the soldiers killed in Niger after the attack, but it was never released, Politico reported Wednesday. It is not clear why the statement was never released, but it was prepared when the Pentagon had said only that three soldiers were killed and before officials disclosed that a fourth soldier, Johnson, also was killed. His body was recovered Oct. 6, two days after the attack.

Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) said Trump called Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, on Tuesday and said her husband “knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.” Wilson was riding in a limousine with the widow and said she heard the conversation on speakerphone.

Attempts to reach Myeshia Johnson on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Trump denied the allegation Wednesday, saying in a tweet that Wilson had “totally fabricated” what happened and that he had “proof.” But the soldier’s childhood guardian, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told The Post that she also was in the car when Trump called, and said that “President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.”

Trump later expanded his denial, saying that he did not say what Wilson alleged and that “she knows it.”

He added: “I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife who was — sounded like a lovely woman. Did not say what the congresswoman said, and most people aren’t too surprised to hear that.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president, saying in a news briefing that Trump was “completely respectful” during the call. Several White House officials, including Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, were in the room at the time, she said.

In all, seven Gold Star families contacted by The Post said they have had phone conversations with Trump. Most said they appreciated the gesture. Four other families said they have not received a call and were upset. One said Trump had not called but that they knew the late soldier would not want his death politicized. An additional family said it had corresponded with the White House but declined to elaborate.

The Associated Press reached one other family, that of Army Spec. Etienne Murphy, 22. His mother said she received neither a call nor a letter from the president.

Baldridge said that after the president made his $25,000 offer, he joked with Trump that he would bail him out if he got arrested for helping. The White House has done nothing else other than send a condolence letter from Trump, the father said.

“I opened it up and read it, and I was hoping to see a check in there, to be honest,” the father said. “I know it was kind of far-fetched thinking. But I was like, ‘Damn, no check.’ Just a letter saying ‘I’m sorry.’ ”

The experiences of other Gold Star families were more typical.

The family of Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas, a 23-year-old Army Ranger killed April 27 in a raid on the Islamic State in Afghanistan, met with Vice President Pence at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware as the soldier’s casket arrived from overseas. They had a 20-minute call with Trump about two weeks later, said Thomas’s father, Andre.

“He gave his condolences and made some comments how different his paperwork was when it went across his desk,” the father said in a phone interview. “Said most of the paperwork he sees in these types of death says, ‘He’s respected by his peers.’ He said Cameron’s stuck out because it said he was respected and loved by his peers.”

Thomas said he spoke at length about his son’s love for the Army and his determination to become a Ranger, a distinction he earned at age 19. About midway through the phone call, Thomas said he told Trump that he had voted for him, and “that got him on another tangent” that extended the conversation for about 10 minutes.”

The president then spoke about his work in office and “the strides that he’s made in the short time he’d been president,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the family was touched by the phone call. The father of a Mormon family with 12 children, seven of them adopted, Thomas said he was concerned about the attention that his son’s death could bring. But talking to the president helped him put things in perspective and realize that his son “belonged to the country.”

“Politics is politics, and maybe some people wouldn’t care to hear from him,” he said. “But putting politics aside, it does mean a lot to a family, their child.”

William J. Lee, 40, said his entire family spoke by phone with Trump after his brother, Army 1st Lt. Weston Lee, 25, was killed in Mosul, Iraq, on April 29.

“He was very cordial and very nice,” Lee said, of the call, which he said lasted about five or six minutes.

Lee said the president spoke to them about “how impressive my brother was, how he had read the reports, reading everything about Weston, and he could tell how amazing he was. And talking to us, he could tell how strong we were and how strong he must have been. We were all pretty devastated.

“It meant something, the leader of our nation calling us and showing the honor and respect to my brother that I feel my brother earned,” Lee said, his voice cracking.

Quinn Butler, whose 27-year-old brother, Aaron, was killed in August by an explosion in Afghanistan, said that their parents received numerous letters from generals and other leaders, but no call or letter from Trump.

Staff Sgt. Aaron Butler, a Special Forces soldier, was very supportive of Trump and appreciative for what he has done for the military, his brother said. Quinn Butler said his brother believed that Trump helped initiate some changes that have enabled commanders to make more progress against the militants in Afghanistan.

Butler said that he was surprised that his parents did not receive a call from Trump, considering his brother was a “very elite soldier, a soldier who had given everything.” But he said that the soldier would not want his death politicized.

“I think that Aaron would be very upset if anything was manipulated to show that he didn’t support Trump and that he wasn’t appreciative of the things that he did do, because he was,” the brother said.

Euvince Brooks’s son, Sgt. Roshain E. Brooks, 30, was killed Aug. 13 in Iraq. He has not heard from the White House. The president’s claim this week that he had called every military family to lose a son or daughter only upset the Brooks family more.

Brooks said that after watching the news on Tuesday night he wanted to set up a Twitter account to try to get the president’s attention.

“I said to my daughter, ‘Can you teach me to tweet, so I can tweet at the president and tell him he’s a liar?’” he said. “You know when you hear people lying, and you want to fight? That’s the way I feel last night. He’s a damn liar.”

Julie Tate, Anne Gearan and Kristine Phillips contributed to this report.

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The private life of Sgt. La David Johnson, the slain soldier ensnared in a Trump controversy – Washington Post

The body of Sgt. La David Johnson arrived in Miami on Oct. 17. President Trump called the soldier’s family that same day to give his condolences. According to a Florida congresswoman, Trump told Johnson’s grieving widow, “He knew what he signed up for.” (Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

To most of the country, Sgt. La David Terrence Johnson was an American service member killed in action in West Africa.

But to his family and his Miami Gardens, Fla., community, Johnson was known as “Wheelie King,” a nickname he earned for riding his bicycle on one wheel. He rode a lot, usually on his way to work.

“You go slow, though. Make sure you keep your balance. Once you feel that you are comfortable, you could just ride all day,” Johnson told ABC affiliate WPLG in 2013, the year before he enlisted for the Army.

Johnson, 25, and three other American soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger on Oct. 4. He left behind a wife who is six months pregnant and two children, a 2-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl. Now, two weeks after his death, Johnson’s name is entangled in a controversy involving President Trump, who has been accused of making insensitive remarks to the soldier’s young widow. As questions still remain about Johnson’s death and over what Trump actually said to his wife, the fallen soldier’s loved ones have largely remained quiet, except for a few public Facebook posts sharing pictures, condolences and memories of him.

To those who knew him, he was a loving husband who had his wife’s name tattooed across his chest, a soldier who pushed to improve himself, and a son who enjoyed talking about his family. He was also a father who was looking forward to seeing his baby girl.

“He was very excited. He said, ‘Sergeant B, I’m having a girl!’ ” Staff Sgt. Dennis Bohler, Johnson’s close friend, told The Washington Post.

This weekend, friends and family members will hold a “WHEELIE KING 305″ parade to remember Johnson, his wife, Myeshia Johnson, wrote on Facebook.

[Fallen soldier’s mother: ‘Trump did disrespect my son’]

One relative shared images of Johnson’s toddler getting on his bicycle for the first time.

“Ladavid Johnson look at your boy … want (s) to be exactly like you,” Sharri Johnson wrote.

In the 2013 interview with WPLG,La David Johnson said he liked to challenge himself by trying to go farther and farther. At times, he wore a T-shirt with his nickname printed on it.

While riding one afternoon in a Miami Gardens park, a group of women in a car began to take photos of him, WPLG reported.

U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson was among four Special Forces soldiers killed in Niger, West Africa, on Oct. 4, 2017. (U.S. Army Special Operations Command/Reuters)

“We love you, La David!” they said.

YouTube videos showed him riding circles in parking lots, on neighborhood streets and once along a narrow guardrail separating a sidewalk from a major road. He also would ride on one wheel on his way to a South Florida Walmart store, where he worked in the produce department.

Johnson joined the Army in January 2014. He was assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) at the Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina.

He was highly regarded by his military peers.Bohler, the friend who also said he was Johnson’s supervisor at Fort Bragg, said Johnson rose through the ranks rapidly — from a private to a sergeant in less than three years.

[Twelve days of silence, then a swipe at Obama: How Trump handled four dead soldiers]

“He caught on quickly. You tell him once, and it’s complete, any task,” Bohler said. “He was just that one soldier that always wanted to better himself every day. Every day, he wanted to do better than he did yesterday.”

Lt. Col. David Painter, commander of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), said in a statement that, “The Bush Hog formation was made better because of Johnson’s faithful service and we are focused on caring for the Johnson family during this difficult period.”

The body of Sgt. La David T. Johnson arrived in Miami on Oct. 17. The U.S. Special Forces soldier was killed at the border of Niger and Mali on Oct. 4 in the deadliest combat incident since President Trump took office. (WPLG/AP)

Johnson loved to talk about his family, particularly about the woman who raised him, Bohler said. His biological mother, Samara, died when he was a child, according to the slain soldier’s obituary. Cowanda Jones-Johnson and her husband, Richard Johnson, were entrusted with his care after his mother died.

Bohler said Jones-Johnson is an aunt who raised Johnson as her own son.

“He’s very thankful for having somebody like his Mom, Cowanda, in his life,” he said. “She wasn’t really his mom, but you couldn’t tell.”

Bohler added: “He had some pretty good upbringing. He didn’t do any drinking. He didn’t do any smoking. He was a family-oriented soldier.”

Johnson attended Dade County Public Schools and graduated from Miami Carol City Senior High School in 2010, his obituary says.

In August 2014, he married his best friend, Myeshia Manual.

[Trump offered a grieving military father $25,000 in a call, but didn’t follow through]

Johnson’s name became a national headline this week after Trump called his wife to offer condolences. In the call, Trump told her, “He must have known what he signed up for,” according to an account of Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.), who was riding in a limousine with the soldier’s family when the president called and heard the conversation on speakerphone.

Wilson said Trump’s comments made the young woman cry.

“When she actually hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even know his name.’ That’s the worst part,” Wilson said Wednesday on CNN’s “New Day.”

President Trump’s response to the deaths of four soldiers in Niger is causing an uproar after Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla) said he told Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow that her husband “knew what he was signing up for.” (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Trump pushed back in an early-morning tweet Wednesday, saying Wilson “totally fabricated” her account of the phone call — and that he has proof. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters during a briefing Wednesday afternoon that there was no recording of the conversation but assured reporters that it was “completely respectful, very sympathetic.”

Wilson, who met Johnson while running a mentoring program for black youths in Miami, stood by her statement, saying she was not the only person who heard the call.

In a Facebook message to The Washington Post, Cowanda Jones-Johnson said that she, too, was in the limousine, and that Wilson’s account of the conversation was accurate.

“President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband,” Jones-Johnson said.

Anne Gearan contributed to this report.

READ MORE:

Trump may want to study Lincoln, master of the wrenching art of presidential condolences

Sarah Huckabee Sanders just admitted Trump’s ‘proof’ doesn’t exist

Yet again, Trump’s defensiveness makes his handling of a Gold Star family’s grief worse

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Trump keeps his focus on the sideshows – Politico

President Donald Trump was expected to spend the fall pushing his ambitious tax reform agenda and helping devastated regions in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico recover from hurricanes.

Instead, over a period of three weeks, Trump has hammered the NFL into submission over the national anthem protests, repeatedly attacked the “fake news” media and now reopened a fight over his – and his predecessor’s – handling of Gold Star families.

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But these seeming distractions are the president’s substance – and the legislative agenda his predecessors have approached with a singular focus is, for him, largely a diversion.

Since his inauguration in January, Trump’s sideshows have dominated the news coverage of his presidency, with his fellow Republicans often left struggling to understand why he insists on stoking major cultural battles rather than working to advance a traditional legislative agenda. It’s perhaps the fundamental misunderstanding of the Trump presidency — and helps explain the yawning chasm between the president and official Washington.

“His ‘issues’ are a series of episodes where he has a fight with some person who doesn’t want America to be great, like the NFL or Colin Kaepernick, and he wins,” said Bill Kristol, editor-at-large for the Weekly Standard.

While Congressional Republicans have committed to repealing Obamacare, passing tax reform, and moving an infrastructure bill, Trump has staked his presidency on identity and culture – hence his Twitter rebukes of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for his failure to bring the GOP’s health care bill over the finish line. “I’m not going to blame myself, I’ll be honest,” Trump said earlier this week in the Cabinet Room.

Defense Secretary James Mattis has told associates that Obama hadn’t done enough to honor the sacrifice of Gold Star families, and embarked on a road trip to pay his respects to Gold Star mothers after he retired from the Marine Corps in 2013. It’s unclear whether Mattis relayed his sentiments to the president, and a spokeswoman for the Department of the Defense declined to comment.

The historian Walter Russell Mead traced this impulse to the legacy of President Andrew Jackson. The Jacksonian legacy, Mead wrote in Foreign Affairs, is defined by identity, culture, and patriotism. “Many Jacksonians came to believe that the American establishment was no longer reliably patriotic, with ‘patriotism’ defined as an instinctive loyalty to the well-being and values of Jacksonian America. And they were not wholly wrong, by their lights. Many Americans with cosmopolitan sympathies see their main ethical imperative as working for the betterment of humanity in general.” (Trump hung Jackson’s portrait in the Oval Office in January, a move instigated by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon after he read Mead’s piece, according to sources familiar with Bannon’s thinking.)

Fights about the mainstream media, the national anthem, and the treatment of Gold Star families are cultural controversies, which sometimes, but not always, intersects with the Republican party’s policy priorities – say, on immigration or the decertification of the Iran deal.

But Trump is always likely to consider those goals a distraction from his larger cultural agenda.

“He thinks he was elected on this stuff, this is the stuff he knows how to talk about, and this is the stuff that would make the front page of the New York Post,” said Jonah Goldberg, senior editor of National Review. “The problem is, is that the job is still the job.”

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