A Florida congresswoman said she overheard President Donald Trump tell the widow of a Miami Gardens native killed in an ambush while on patrol in Niger that her husband "must've known what he signed up for," prompting adamant denials from the president despite the soldier's mother confirming the congresswoman's account.
Challenged by Trump, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., stood by her account, the latest flash point in Trump's controversy about the appropriate way to show compassion for slain soldiers.
Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, was one of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers killed in Niger by Islamist militants on Oct. 4. The casket carrying his body reached South Florida on Tuesday.
Wilson, who represents the Miami Gardens district, told NBC6 Tuesday that she overheard Trump's comment on speakerphone while riding with Myeshia Johnson, the Johnson's pregnant widow.
"Sarcastically, [Trump] said: 'But, you know, he must've known what he signed up for,'" Wilson said. "How could you say that to a grieving widow? ... I couldn't believe, and he said it more than once. This man has no feelings for anyone. This is a young woman with child."
"Everyone knows when you go to war, you could possibly not come back alive, but you don't remind a grieving widow of that. That's so insensitive," Wilson added.
Wilson also told MSNBC that Trump didn't remember Johnson's name.
Trump on Wednesday categorically denied Wilson's allegations, saying first on Twitter and then in person that Wilson fabricated what he said, and that he has proof.
"Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!" Trump tweeted.
But the president did not immediately offer that evidence up, and when he was later pressed for that evidence, he challenged Wilson to "let her make her statement again and you'll find out." Wilson stood by her statement on Twitter and in a statement.
Wilson has said that she has her own proof. While she, like Trump, didn't immediately offer up that proof, a representative for Wilson told NBC, "she was not alone in the car with Myesha Johnson and other family members also heard his insensitive remarks."
Wilson's account of the call was confirmed by Johnson's mother to The Washington Post and The Associated Press.
"Yes the statement is true," Cowanda Jones-Johnson told the AP Wednesday. "I was in the car and I heard the full conversation. Not only did he disrespect my son," but Trump disrespected his wife, Jones-Johnson and her husband.
A White House official earlier told NBC: "The President’s conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private."
The disagreement comes after Trump, asked in a news conference why he'd taken so long to discuss four U.S. soldiers killed in West Africa, boasted that he likes to call the families of fallen soldiers, unlike Barack Obama and other presidents. Obama did call some Gold Star families and made extensive outreach to many. His former aides reacted angrily to Trump's comments. Former President George W. Bush often met privately with families of service members killed in action and wrote letters.
The Associated Press also spoke with families of two fallen soldiers who said Trump didn't call or write a letter of condolence, despite Trump saying Tuesday, "I think I've called every family of someone who's died.
It wasn't immediately clear what proof he had. The president has previously implied he had tapes of conversations with James Comey, the FBI director he fired, only to reveal after weeks that he did not.
Johnson's body reached the Miami International Airport for a brief ceremony before a funeral procession took the flag-draped casket to a funeral home in Hollywood.
When she heard Trump's comment, Wilson said Myeshia did not react.
"She didn't say anything. She simply listened to what he was saying," Wilson said.
A GoFundMe page was created Monday in Myeshia Johnson's name to benefit her and the sergeant's kids' college funds. As of Tuesday night, it had more than $120,000.