President Donald Trump talks about the fighting in Niger that killed U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson, a Miami Gardens native, during a rambling discourse recorded by former White House staffer and Trump reality show participant Omarosa Newman.
Newman played the tape on MSNBC Monday.
Newman said Trump was talking to “very junior staffers” on his communications team in October 2017, not long after an Oct. 4 ambush killed Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson; Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright; and four soldiers from Niger.
Officially, Johnson and his fellow Americans were in the West African nation for training and security assistance as Niger’s Armed Forces fought extremists who claim Islamic beliefs.
“And in the Middle East, there’s very few left,” Trump said. “We’ve really — we’ve done a very good job. We’ve done more in seven months, because, really, it’s seven months that we’ve started, we’ve done more in seven months than they’ve done in eight years, okay? And so we’re — But what happens is now they flee. And they flee to Africa and they flee to Niger and countries around there. And that’s how these young people get attacked and they got attacked by 50 real fighters.
“These were people in many cases, that were in the Middle East, that now go to Africa to try and, you know, cause problems there,” he continued.
NBC Pentagon correspondent Hans Nichols said it’s the first time he’s heard any official say the extremists in the Niger ISIS-connected group came from the Middle East.
Then, Trump made a joke that Newman said shows how “unhinged and inappropriate” he is. The president was accused of insensitivity by Johnson’s widow and mother of his children, Myeshia Johnson, who said Trump couldn’t remember Johnson’s name during a condolence phone call days after the ambush.
“So, it’s a rough business. I wouldn’t, I don’t think I’d want to be a terrorist right now.” After pausing for the laughter from the junior staffers, the president says with audible levity, “It’s not a good life, but it’s, uh, the only thing that — what else is there?
“But, um, but that is -- you know people don’t say that the reason they’re there is because we forced them out and it’s not nearly as intense, but it’s pretty intense, you see that happening.”
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, who was in the car when Trump called Myeshia Johnson and sharply criticized him for his comments to the widow, was upset when she learned of Trump’s latest comments.
“I think it’s so disrespectful of the four soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country for our president to feel that it’s a scenario that’s a joke to be laughed about,’’ she said.
“That’s telling about the kind of White House he has built.”
Wilson not only represents Johnson’s district, she’s been a friend of Johnson’s family since before he was born. He participated in the 5000 Role Models program Wilson started and encouraged his younger relatives to do so.
“We don’t have many African American heroes,” Wilson said. “But Sgt. La David Johnson was one.”
Wilson said Myeshia Johnson has given birth to her third child with La David Johnson, a daughter. Wilson said she and the family still await the complete story on what happened during the ambush and why it took so long to find his remains.