Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry brushed off the controversy that President Donald Trump started by criticizing the way past presidents treated the families of fallen soldiers, by calling the debate “asinine” and a “waste of time.”
“It even boils down to splitting hairs finer than that — did they actually sign the letter or did they autopen it?” Perry told CBS News Wednesday, referencing a five-year-old dispute over whether former President Barack Obama used an auto-pen to sign condolence letters to families of some Navy SEALs killed in Afghanistan.
“I mean that’s how asinine I will suggest to you this whole thing is from my perspective. The Presidents of the United States each have a love for this country,” he said. “They have a love for the young men and women who serve and the families who have lost them. I think anyone who questions that — now do they handle it differently? Yes, and that’s OK.”
Perry reiterated the stance that the White House has taken since Monday, claiming that Trump was trying to say that every President offers condolences to families differently.
“They all reach out in their own way. … From my perspective, I know we live in a 24/7 news cycles and to be splitting hairs on how do we mourn, how do you give comfort, I think is a waste of time, frankly,” Perry told CBS.
Trump ignited the firestorm 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 condemnation from former Obama aides.
When Trump finally did make phone calls to the families of the four fallen soldiers, 14 days after their 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. During a White House press briefing Wednesday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders blamed the controversy on the media and claimed there were several people in the room, including Chief of Staff John Kelly, who thought Trump’s comments were “respectful.”
Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2017