Democratic Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson this week relayed what she described as an "insensitive" phone call from President Trump to the widow of a U.S. soldier who died in Niger, but many news reports describing that conversation have been omitting a key part of that quote that tempered the tone of Trump's message.
As reported initially by NBC Miami, Wilson said that Trump "sarcastically" told the widow, "You know, he must've known what he signed up for." Wilson complained, "How could you say that to a grieving widow?"
That night, in an interview on CNN, Wilson offered a more detailed quote from the call, which she said the widow, Myeshia Johnson, took while the two were in a limousine and on speakerphone.
"Well, he basically said, um, ‘Well, I guess he knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurts,'" said Wilson. "That's what he said."
She repeated virtually the same story the next morning on MSNBC.
"He was almost like joking, he said something to the fact that, ‘He knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway,'" she said. "You know, just matter of factly that this is what happens."
Some news outlets picking up on Wilson's remarks excluded the second half of the quote, instead emphasizing the part where Trump allegedly said, "He knew what he was getting into when he signed up."
On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that "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'…"
The second part of the quote, as relayed at least twice in live interviews with Wilson, was not referenced at all in the Times report.
NBC News' online report had the "must've known what he signed up for" quote in its first paragraph. But that article also did not have the second half.
Aaron Blake, a political analyst for the Washington Post, wrote a piece attempting to establish a "clear pattern" of Trump disrespecting military figures, but also ignored the "I guess it still hurts" line from Wilson.
The opening line of Blake's piece said, "A Democratic congresswoman says she was in the car with the widow of a soldier killed in Niger when President Trump made comments that upset the widow. Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (Fla.) says Trump told Myeshia Johnson that her husband, Sgt. La David T. Johnson, "knew what he signed up for."
A separate piece news story in the Post used the "must have known what he signed up for" quote in its second paragraph and later did mention the rest, as reiterated by Wilson on MSNBC, but not until the 11th paragraph.
Trump said Wednesday on Twitter that Wilson had "totally fabricated" her account of events and that it was "sad!"
The Associated Press reported on the tweet, and referred to the "knew what he signed up for" quote in its opening paragraph. But the report did not mention the rest of the quote.
Video: Gut-wrenching stuff as Gen. Kelly describes his emotions upon seeing Democratic Rep. Wilson parading around blasting Trump pic.twitter.com/1quiR8ta0R— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) October 19, 2017
On Thursday, White House chief of staff John Kelly, who himself lost a son in combat in the war in Afghanistan, criticized Wilson for her public comments about the phone call.
"I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning and brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing," Kelly told reporters of Wilson during the White House press briefing. "A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the president of the United States to a young wife, and in his way tried to express that opinion that he's a brave man, a fallen hero. He knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted. There's no reason to enlist. He enlisted, and he was where he wanted to be, exactly where he wanted to be with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken."
Kelly continued, "That was the message. That was the message that was transmitted."
In his dramatic remarks to the press Thursday, Kelly said he was given a similar message by a friend who told him of his own son's death in Afghanistan.
"Let me tell you what my best friend, Joe Dunford, told me, because he was my casualty officer," Kelly said he told Trump about how to deliver condolences to grieving families.
"He said, 'Kel, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that one percent. He knew what the possibilities were, because we're at war,'" Kelly said.
"And when he died, in the four cases we're talking about in Niger and my son's case in Afghanistan, when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this Earth, his friends," Kelly said. "That's what the president tried to say to four families the other day."
Cowanda Jones-Johnson, the mother of Sgt. Johnson, however, told the Washington Post Wednesday, however, that she was also present for the call and that Trump "did disrespect my son."