Washington — President Donald Trump has pulled bereaved military families into a painful political fight of his own making, going so far Tuesday as to cite the death of his chief of staff’s son in Afghanistan to question whether Barack Obama and other presidents did enough to honor the military dead.
He’s boasted that “I think I’ve called every family of someone who’s died,” though The Associated Press found relatives of two soldiers who died overseas during Trump’s presidency who said they never received a call or a letter from him, as well as relatives of a third who did not get a call from him.
The White House said Trump did telephone on Tuesday the families of four soldiers who were killed in Niger nearly two weeks ago, the issue that had spawned the controversy this week.
“He offered condolences on behalf of a grateful nation and assured them their family’s extraordinary sacrifice to the country will never be forgotten,” said a White House statement.
Contending that Trump’s propensity for a political fight has drifted into “sacred” territory, Democrats and some former government officials have expressed anger at his comments that he, almost alone among presidents, called the families of military members killed in war.
For their part, Gold Star families, which have lost members in wartime, told AP of acts of intimate kindness from two presidents — Obama and George W. Bush — when those commanders in chief consoled them.
Trump’s posture has been defensive in recent days after he was criticized for not reaching out right away to relatives of the soldiers killed in Niger. On Monday, Trump said he’d written letters that hadn’t yet been mailed; his aides they had been awaiting information on the soldiers before proceeding.
Then Trump stirred things further Tuesday on Fox News radio, saying, “You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?”
John Kelly, a Marine general under Obama, is Trump’s chief of staff. His son, Marine 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.
A White House official said Obama did not call Kelly after his son’s death but did not say whether the former president reached out in some other fashion. White House visitor records show Kelly attended a breakfast Obama hosted for Gold Star families six months after his son died. A person familiar with the breakfast — speaking on condition of anonymity because the event was private — said the Kelly family sat at Michelle Obama’s table.
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