Donald Trump just hit a new low in the La David Johnson fiasco

Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large | 10/23/2017, 10:48 a.m.
Calling the widow of an American soldier killed in action is, emotionally speaking, absolutely gut-wrenching. Knowing that nothing you will ...
President Donald Trump CNN/Pool photo

(CNN) -- Calling the widow of an American soldier killed in action is, emotionally speaking, absolutely gut-wrenching. Knowing that nothing you will say can bring true comfort. Knowing a life -- and likely many lives -- have been altered forever. Facing down pure loss and pure grief.

As difficult as it is emotionally, it is just as simple politically speaking. You call -- or write -- expressing deepest sympathies and condolences. You offer any assistance you can. The end.

Which makes what President Donald Trump has done -- and is doing -- with Myeshia Johnson (and Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson) all the more appalling.

On Monday, in an interview with "Good Morning America," Johnson, the widow of slain Sgt. La David Johnson, spoke for the first time in public about her phone call with Trump. She confirmed Wilson's account that Trump had told her that her husband "knew what he was getting into" and added: "It made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said it. He couldn't remember my husband's name."

To which Trump almost immediately replied via Twitter: "I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!"

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@realDonaldTrump

It's staggering to consider what Trump is doing here.

After spending the weekend attacking Wilson for allegedly lying about the nature of the call between himself and Johnson -- even though White House chief of staff John Kelly confirmed last week the basics of Wilson's account of the words Trump used -- the President is now suggesting that the widow of a soldier killed in action is lying.

There's simply no other way to read this. Johnson says Trump couldn't remember her husband's name. Trump says he used La David's name "without hesitation" from the start of the call. Both of those things can't be true.

Here's the thing: It is absolutely possible that, at root, this is all one big misunderstanding. Trump, awkward and unfamiliar with the empathy required to make this sort of call, came across as callous and uncaring to Johnson and Wilson in an entirely unintentional way. They were offended.

At that point, Trump could have made much -- maybe all -- of this go away by simply calling Myeshia Johnson back and saying something along these lines: "I'm so sorry our previous call made you upset. I struggle with every death of an American soldier and I simply am not great all the time at conveying how much your loss means to me and the country."

Would Johnson (and Wilson) be totally satisfied? Maybe not. But, it would be a respectful gesture to someone who has just lost a husband fighting for this country under orders from the commander in chief.

It would be taking the high road. It would be saying: Whether or not I said the right things, they weren't received in the way I meant them. So I am going to admit that and move on.