Ex-Obama Official: Trump ‘Unequivocally Wrong’ About Calling Grieving Families

Ron Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

A former White House official on Monday called President Donald Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama did not call the families of fallen soldiers “unequivocally wrong.”

Trump made the claim during an impromptu press conference in the White House Rose Garden. By the end of the news conference, Trump himself had walked back his own claim, saying “I don’t know” if Obama called grieving families.

Trump was asked about his own failure to publicly address the deaths of four Green Berets, who were killed in Niger on Oct. 4. The President admitted he had not contacted the fallen Green Berets’ families. “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.”

He alleged that former President Obama and other presidents had not called grieving families, as Trump said he planned to do.

“The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls. A lot of them didn’t make calls,” he said.

In an email to TPM, a former Obama White House official strongly disputed Trump’s claim.

“President Trump’s claim is unequivocally wrong,” the official said. “President Obama engaged families of the fallen and wounded warriors throughout his presidency through calls, letters, visits to Section 60 at Arlington, visits to Walter Reed, visits to Dover, and regular meetings with Gold Star Families at the White House and across the country.”

One alumna of the Obama White House, Alyssa Mastromonaco, called the claim “a fucking lie.”

And Ben Rhodes,Obama’s former deputy national security adviser, called the statement “an outrageous and disrespectful lie.”

Trump himself failed to support his own assertion later in the press conference, when he was asked how he could claim to know whether Obama did or did not call grieving military families.

“I don’t know if he did. No, no, no. I was told that he didn’t often and a lot of presidents don’t. They write letters,” Trump said. “President Obama I think probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. That’s what I was told. All I can do is ask my generals.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told TPM in an email that “The President wasn’t criticizing predecessors, but stating a fact.”

“When American heroes make the ultimate sacrifice, Presidents pay their respects,” she continued. “Sometimes they call, sometimes they send a letter, other times they have the opportunity to meet family members in person. This President, like his predecessors, has done each of these.  Individuals claiming former Presidents, such as their bosses, called each family of the fallen, are mistaken.”

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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