Cindy Sheehan says President Trump's allegedly insensitive remarks to the widow of a soldier killed in Niger aren't surprising to her, and that former President George W. Bush had a similarly difficult time with her family after her son Casey's 2004 death in Iraq.
Bush's treatment of grieving military family members, including Sheehan, who camped outside his Texas ranch to protest the Iraq War, is upheld frequently as an example for Trump to follow.
But Sheehan said Bush's attempt to comfort her family and others was rife with awkwardness and upsetting moments, and said she's "not shocked" to read that Trump allegedly said of Army Sgt. La David Johnson to his widow that "he knew what he signed up for."
A couple months after her son's death, Sheehan said she and her family were surprised to receive an invitation to meet Bush in June 2004 in Washington state. She said she believes 18 families attended.
"The meeting was bizarre and Bush also did not know Casey's name, nor would he look at the photos we brought of him," Sheehan said. "He called me ‘mom' throughout the whole time and was pretty rude to my oldest daughter."
Sheehan can't recall Bush's specific exchange with her daughter, but does recall that he said "I am sure you do," before turning away.
"He did tell another mom who was also invited to that meeting in Washington state, after she expressed that her son had a good life before he was killed, ‘How do you know he would have had a good life if he lived?'" Sheehan said.
"We left that meeting shaking our heads," she said.
Bush's office declined to comment, but the former president did address the meeting in his 2010 memoir "Decision Points," which quotes Sheehan telling a local newspaper after the meeting that "I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss." Bush wrote that he felt sympathy for Sheehan as she became a prominent antiwar activist.
After Trump tangled last year with Khizr Khan, whose son died in Iraq, many publications invoked Bush's public remarks about Sheehan's right to protest. While she camped outside his Crawford, Texas, ranch, Bush said at a press conference, "I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan, she feels strongly about her position and she has every right in the world to say what she believes."
Bush's treatment of families was praised on Twitter this week after Trump suggested his predecessors had not called families.
Delilia O'Malley tweeted: "When my brother was killed, Pres Bush listened while I screamed at him & then held me as I sobbed, you fat fucking liar." The tweet was "liked" by nearly 500,000 people.
Sheehan's recollections came as Trump has been disputing a claim by Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., and Sgt. Johnson's widow that he said during a phone call that Johnson "knew what he signed up for." Trump denied it, claiming on Twitter that Wilson "totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof)."
On Wednesday, Johnson's widow and mother vouched for the accuracy of Wilson's claim. His mother said that "President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband."
As the back-and-forth continued, Wilson told MSNBC on Wednesday that Johnson's widow "was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn't even remember his name.' That's the hurting part."
Trump again denied making the remark during mid-day remarks at the White House, and told reporters "I didn't say what that congresswoman said, didn't say it at all."
Sheehan said she is "not shocked by Trump's behavior" or his alleged statement that "he knew what he signed up for," which she says is something she's consistently heard from supporters of U.S. military engagements. Her retort is: "So you think [he] got what he deserved?"
"Trump became the chief of the war machine when he became president, even though many people -- not me -- saw his campaign rhetoric as being less belligerent than Clinton's," she said. "Trump is playing his role, with less deaths than Obama caused, but also with less finesse."
Sheehan said she was comforted by Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who visited her protest camp, but that "honestly, there is nothing anyone can say to a grieving family that helps."