Donald Trump has been branded “insensitive” after reportedly telling the widow of a soldier killed in northwestern Africa that “he knew what he signed up for”.
The US president, who has been criticised for not immediately reaching out to relatives of the four soldiers killed in Niger nearly two weeks ago, telephoned the wife of Army Sgt. La David Johnson on Tuesday to offer his condolences.
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson told CNN she was travelling with Myeshia Johnson on the way to Miami International Airport to see his casket arrive home when the president called.
She said Mr Trump told Mrs Johnson: “Well I guess he knew what he signed up for. But when it happens, it hurts anyway.”
“They were astonished,” Ms Wilson told the New York Post. “It was almost like saying, ‘You signed up to do this, and if you didn’t want to die, shouldn’t have signed up’.”
The Democratic Congresswoman from Florida said the call lasted about 3-5 minutes and the only words that the widow spoke to Mr Trump were “thank you” at the end.
“It’s so insensitive. He should have not have said that. He shouldn’t have said it,” Ms Wilson told local ABC affiliate, WPLG.
She later tweeted: “Sgt. La David Johnson is a hero. Donald Trump does not possess the character, empathy or grace to be president of the United States.”
Mrs Johnson has a two-year-old son, a six-year-old daughter and is expecting a third child in January.
Footage showed the casket arriving at the airport, draped in the American flag. Mrs Johnson can be seen leaning over it, her body shaking as she sobbed.
The president has been embroiled in a political fight over his response to the deaths of American soldiers.
Defending his record of contacting relatives of slain American soldiers, he said: “If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls. A lot of them didn’t make calls.”
“I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it.”
The comment triggered an immediate backlash, with the US President later softening his claim when challenged a second time.
Mr Trump fuelled the row further on Tuesday on Fox News Radio, saying, “You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?”
John Kelly, a Marine general under Obama, is Mr Trump’s chief of staff. His son, Marine 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.
A White House official said Mr Obama did not call Mr Kelly after his son’s death but did not say whether the former president reached out in some other fashion.