John Kelly: It’s ‘Not A Negative Thing’ That Obama Didn’t Call When Son Died

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During an interview with Fox News radio this week, President Donald Trump invoked his chief of staff’s dead son in his continuing effort to deflect criticism for not calling all the soldiers who have died while he was President.

But Chief of Staff John Kelly said Thursday he told Trump that former President Barack Obama had not called his family when his son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010 not as “criticism,” but to give him counsel about how to handle offering condolences to the families of fallen soldiers when he first took the job.

“He asked me about previous presidents and I said I could tell you that President Obama who was my commander in chief when I was on active duty did not call my family,” he said during a surprise press briefing at the White House Thursday. “That was not a criticism. That was just to simply say I don’t believe President Obama called. That’s not a negative thing.”

He said he didn’t think former President George W. Bush called in all cases either, which he said is common, especially “when the casualty rates are very, very high.” He said he believes all president write letters to Gold Star families, though.

Trump started the controversy over how to console families of fallen soldiers on Monday when he was asked about the deaths of four U.S. troops in Niger nearly two weeks ago. Trump claimed that “Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls,” which was met with widespread frustration from former Obama aides.

When the President finally did make phone calls to the families of the four fallen soldiers, 14 days after the deaths, he reportedly told Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, that the soldier “knew what he was getting into” when he enlisted, according to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) who was apparently in the car with Johnson when she received the call.

Trump pushed back on those reports, tweeting that Wilson’s comments were “totally fabricated” and claiming he had “proof” that she made it up.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.
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