On Friday, the hashtag #IBelieveFrederica was trending as many united behind Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) over her standoff with the White House after she said President Donald Trump disrespected a Gold Star family.
According to Wilson, Trump told widow Myeshia Johnson that her husband, who had been killed while on a mission in Niger, “must have known what he signed up for” when the president called to give his condolences earlier in the week.
Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, Fla. was one of four special forces soldiers killed on Oct. 4 during that mission. According to CBS News, U.S. officials believe extremists linked to the Islamic State were responsible for the ambush, though details of the attack remain murky.
By the time President Trump called Johnson’s family, he had already been criticized for his slow outreach to the families of the four fallen soldiers. Trump pushed back at the criticism, even going as far as criticizing his predecessors for not calling the families of soldiers who had died during their administrations.
On Tuesday, Wilson had been riding in the limousine alongside Johnson’s wife and his guardians to meet the body, when the president called. She told The Washington Post that Trump told Johnson, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.” Her account of the phone call was later confirmed by Johnson’s adoptive mother.
Trump immediately lashed back at Wilson, denying the account and saying that the congresswoman lied.
“I didn’t say what that congresswoman said; didn’t say it all. She knows it,” Trump said when asked about the exchange by a reporter. “I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife who was — sounded like a lovely woman. Did not say what the congresswoman said, and most people aren’t too surprised to hear that.”
Trump also said he had proof to support his account. The White House could only confirm that other staff, including Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, had been on the call. It was never recorded. “The hardest job he has is making calls like that,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubled down. “I think it is appalling what the congresswoman has done.”
Wilson stood by her account the whole time, even as Kelly gave a press conference on Thursday where he criticized the politicizing of such an emotional moment.
“It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation,” Kelly said in the White House briefing room.
He went on to comment about her allegedly funding an FBI field office in Miramar, Florida named after two befallen FBI agents in 2015.
“And a congresswoman stood up —and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise— stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building. And how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President (Barack) Obama, and on that phone call, he gave the money, the $20 million, to build the building, and she sat down,” Kelly said. “And we were stunned, stunned that she’d done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.”
Despite being called an “empty barrel” repeatedly for something that happened two years ago, Kelly didn’t mention that Wilson was the childhood mentor of the soldier who died this week. Kelly also forgot to mention her years of dedicated civil service. Kelly even forgot to call her by her name.
The he-said-she-said account of that call has split many on social media. Some are siding with a president, who has a shifting relationship with the truth, and his well-respected Chief of Staff, who is also part of a Gold Star family. And those using the #IBelieveFrederica hashtag on Twitter, are siding with the congresswoman.
“Wilson has deep roots in the South Florida community where Johnson grew up,” noted The Washington Post’s Derek Hawkins. “Before entering Congress, she worked as a teacher, principal and school board member in the Miami-Dade area and served for more than a decade as a state legislator…. She also founded a program in 1993 called 5,000 Role Models of Excellence, which helps at-risk minority youths prepare for college, vocational school and the military.”
Sgt. La David T. Johnson was a graduate of that program. That leaves many to believe the congresswoman would have no reason to lie. But for those watching Trump’s first year in office, falsehoods are never far behind him.