Gold Star father: "Shocked" by Trump's call to grieving widow

Khizr Khan, who became an advocate for Gold Star families after his passionate speech during the 2016 Democratic National Convention when he challenged then-GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump's stance on Muslim immigration, is criticizing President Trump, and his advisors, on his condolence call to the wife of a soldier killed in Niger.

This morning Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, confirmed President Trump told her that her husband "knew what he signed up for." (President Trump has denied saying that, and described the Congresswoman who relayed the details of the phone call as "wacky.)

Appearing on "CBS This Morning," Khan (whose son, Army Captain Humayun Khan, was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2004), said he was "disheartened" and "shocked" by news of the president's call.

1023-ctm-khizrkhan-khan-1425633-640x360.jpg

Gold Star father Khizr Khan.

CBS News

"I wish somebody would advise him dignity, most dignity for these families," Khan said. "Privacy, dignity, restraint. He was not advised of those sentiments, of those words."

When asked if Mr. Trump may have been advised not to make a call, to perhaps write a letter instead, Khan replied, "His advisers know his habits and his nature. They must have insisted. Put those words on a piece of paper and place it in front of him to read it from there so there is no misunderstanding -- that was not done. "

"Should the president call or should he simply send a letter?" asked co-anchor Charlie Rose. "Because you can't call everybody, or they don't call everybody."

"That is a very personal decision that ought to be left to the leader of this country what he decides," Khan replied. "That is his prerogative. But utmost respect, dignity, and privacy [must] be granted to these most respectful families, the bravest families of this nation."

an-american-family-cover-244.jpg
Random House

Khan tells his family's story in a new book, "An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice" (Random House). He shares his journey of growing up as the son of a Pakistani farmer, to fulfilling his dream of studying at Harvard Law School. He also writes about the struggle to raise a family in America.

He described himself as an American patriot not because he was born in this country, but because be was not born in this country.

Khan said it was not his intention to write a book -- nor was it to speak out at the DNC last summer, as candidate Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric was dividing the nation. "That was not the intention, but under these very difficult times, divisive times, children were reaching out to me knowing that I practice law, 'Will we be thrown out?' Elementary schoolchildren [asked], 'Can we finish our school before are thrown out of here?'

"I would hearten them. I would take the Constitution out of my pocket that I have been keeping since 2005," he said.

He only came to speak at the Democratic convention when he read a letter that day from four middle school children: "They said, 'Mr. and Mrs. Khan, would you make sure that Maria is not thrown out of this country? We love her. She's our friend.'

"I read it twice," he said. "I took it to Ghazala without saying a word. She said, 'We will go. We should speak on [their] behalf.'"

When asked what readers should understand about his journey, Khan said, "It is the goodness of this country, the values that must be remembered under these most difficult times of our nation, divisive times. There is so much good in this country. I have spoken to 162 communities in the last 15 months. Each and every member had been hopeful, a firm believer in the goodness of this country and its values. I remind in the book how we personally are a symbol of the goodness of this country. We are the beneficiaries of the values."

He brought his son, Humayun, here when he was two: "He learned everything from here. That is what makes this country great. It teaches ordinary citizens to be patriots. When the time comes, they stand up for the sake of others, protecting others, and he did that. He was a symbol of values."

Rose asked, "Do you believe those values will keep us strong?"

this-is-our-constitution-cover-244.jpg
Knopf Books for Young Readers

"They certainly will. I have seen those values and a belief in those values of America throughout this nation," he said. "This is the strongest than ever before. The more difficult time we face, the more those values shine and make us a beacon of hope for the rest of the world."

He spoke of the dignity he experienced after becoming a U.S. citizen in 1986. "I really clearly remember entering the courthouse to take the oath of citizenship. I had lived under too much laws, no rights, no liberties. Without any dignities, I walked in; I came out with that piece of paper, to most people that is a piece of paper, [but] to me it meant so much that I became a person of equal dignity."

He even witnessed that equality waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles: "Sitting in the DMV, all of us, and knowing what a difficult experience that is, I saw the rule of law in work. Everybody was treated with equal dignity -- or indignity, whatever you wish to call it."

"An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice" by Khizr Khan (Random House), published on October 24. Available via Amazon.

Also published on Tuesday is the children's book "This Is Our Constitution: Discover America with a Gold Star Father" by Khizr Khan (Knopf Books for Young Readers). Available via Amazon.

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.