Trump: I’ve Called ‘Virtually’ All Gold Star Families

President Donald Trump listens to a questions prior to speaking  to members of the media in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he had called “virtually” every family of service members who have died during his presidency.

The White House did not answer TPM’s questions about whether “virtually everybody” included the families of the four Green Berets who were killed in Niger on Oct. 4. On Monday, Trump acknowledged in an impromptu press conference that he had not yet contacted the families, 12 days and counting after the ambush that left their loved ones dead.

“I’ve written them personal letters. They’ve been sent, or they’re going out tonight,” he said, adding later: “I’m going to be calling them. I want a little time to pass.”

Trump also baselessly accused former President Barack Obama and other former presidents of not calling the loved ones of fallen service members, an accusation that multiple former Obama administration officials swiftly denied.

On Tuesday, the President kept up the misinformation campaign.

“Now, as far as other representatives, I don’t know,” he told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade, on Kilmeade’s radio show. “You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?”

John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, lost his 29-year-old son Robert Kelly in Afghanistan in 2010.

“I don’t know what Obama’s policy was,” Trump continued. “I write letters and I also call. Now sometimes, you know, if you had a tragic event, it’s very difficult to be able to do that, but I have called, I believe, everybody, but certainly I’ll use the word virtually everybody, where, during the last nine months, something has happened to a soldier, I’ve called virtually everybody.”

The New York Times noted Monday that, during the first year of Obama’s presidency, “there were 317 American military fatalities in Afghanistan and 149 in Iraq.” So far in Trump’s term, according to the Times, “there have been 11 fatalities in Afghanistan and 14 in Iraq,” and 17 sailors killed in accidents on two Navy warships: the John S. McCain and the Fitzgerald.

Trump told Kilmeade that he had “gone to Dover,” referring to the Air Force base where the “dignified transfer” of the remains of fallen service members is conducted.

“It’s an incredible scene and very, very sad, one of the saddest things you’ll ever see,” he said.

Returning to other presidents, Trump said: “But I really speak for myself. I’m not speaking for other people.”

“I don’t know what Bush did. I don’t know what Obama did,” he continued. “You could find out easily what President Obama did. All you have to do is ask the military people. But I believe his policy was somewhat different than my policy. I can tell you my policy is, I’ve called every one of them.”

An unnamed senior official told the Times Monday that Trump would have spoken sooner to the families of the four fallen Green Berets, “but the White House had to wait until the Pentagon’s paperwork was completed,” in the Times’ words. Unnamed Pentagon officials told the Times that the military’s Africa Command was putting together a “detailed timeline” of the attack, and of the role French helicopters played in providing cover and medical evacuation during and after it.

On Oct. 7, the Pentagon officially identified the fourth and final American casualty of the attack, Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25.

Trump told Kilmeade Tuesday that “You can’t just call immediately but I will be calling, have called and will be calling the parents and the loved ones, wives, et cetera of the soldiers that recently were killed.”

This post has been updated.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously assistant editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.
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