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Congressman And Veteran Says Trump Has A Pattern Of Disrespecting Troops

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Controversies erupted around a condolence call made by President Trump to a grieving widow whose husband died in armed service to the United States. The president called Myeshia Johnson, widow of the late Sergeant La David Johnson who was one of four soldiers killed in an ambush this month in an operation in Niger. His body was found nearly a mile from the scene of the fight. And Sergeant Johnson is being laid to rest today. The call of the president to a widow seems to be remembered differently by everyone involved. We're joined now by Seth Moulton. He's a retired Marine Corps officer and a Democrat who represents northeast Massachusetts in Congress. Mr. Moulton, thanks so much for being with us.

SETH MOULTON: It's good to be here.

SIMON: Representative Frederica Wilson of Florida said that the president upset a soldier's widow when he told her he knew what he signed up for. If I can follow this, she's been criticized by both the president and his chief of staff, General John Kelly - also a Gold Star father - for politicizing the issue, in their judgment. General Kelly said that phrase was one he suggested to the president because it had been said of Robert Kelly, the general's son, when he died.

Is it possible that everyone is just misunderstanding each other at a stressful time?

MOULTON: Well, I suppose that's possible. But I don't think anyone misunderstands the fact that President Trump has sadly disrespected our troops many, many times. I remember during his campaign when he told the country that the troops had no idea what they were doing, that the generals had no idea what they were doing. And he even praised Saddam Hussein. So I don't think it's lost on people that President Trump, a draft dodger himself - a five-time draft dodger, has a lot of trouble respecting the troops and the sacrifices that they make.

SIMON: Was Representative Wilson wise to jump on the president's words in a phone call to a widow?

MOULTON: Well, my understanding is that she was standing up for the widow who felt offended herself. And that's the fundamental job of a representative, is to stand up for your constituents. So I think she thought she was doing the right thing. But you know, I would listen to the widow herself. My understanding is that she's upset.

SIMON: Yeah.

General Kelly, at one point, called out a divide between many of the families who served in the armed forces and the rest of us. Do you sense that divide?

MOULTON: Yes, I do. I think General Kelly is right. I think a lot of America is out of touch with those of us who have served and the sacrifices that we've made or seen our colleagues make. And that's a divide that we ought to bridge. But you don't do that by politicizing an incident like this. You do it by taking responsibility for your actions. If you're the president, you say I don't think I said that, if that's what he believes. But if I offended the widow in any way, then I apologize.

SIMON: Congressman, I - a bit off the central topic we've been talking about - did you know U.S. forces were operating in Niger?

MOULTON: As a member of the armed services committee, I am aware of it but only very peripherally. This is not something that we have talked about or has been briefed to us extensively at all.

SIMON: So you think there's more to be known about this mission and about U.S. operations in that area of the world?

MOULTON: Well, absolutely. I mean, we've got to understand what the mission is, what the troops are being asked to achieve - to make sure that it makes sense to make these kinds of sacrifices. And once again, I fear that the fact that we have an administration that clearly doesn't have a national security strategy, that has no plan for truly how to bring the troops home, where they're deployed across the globe - is taking away the political and diplomatic resources that we need to actually end these conflicts so troops can come home. I don't think they're doing right by our troops.

SIMON: Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, thanks so much.

MOULTON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.