WASHINGTON ― Facing heat for not publicly commenting on the deadly ambush of four U.S. soldiers in Niger on Oct. 4, President Donald Trump tried Monday to convince reporters that he is actually more caring and compassionate to the troops than any of his predecessors were.
In an afternoon press conference, Trump said that over the weekend, he wrote letters to the families of the four service members, who died in the deadliest U.S. combat operation of Trump’s term thus far. The letters, Trump said, either have been sent already or will be sent Monday night. He also said he intends to call the families.
Trump then took a moment to compare himself favorably to former presidents, saying he likes to call families “when I’m able to do it.”
“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. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it,” Trump said. “They have made the ultimate sacrifice, so generally I would say that I like to call. I’m going to be calling them. I want a little time to pass.”
Other presidents have also gone beyond writing letters.
Ari Fleischer, who served as spokesman for President George W. Bush ― who launched the United States into the Iraq and Afghanistan wars ― said Bush frequently went out of his way to interact with the military community.
“I know he wrote to the families and I often was with him when he met with families at military bases to commiserate in person,” Fleischer said.
Toward the end of Bush’s presidency, The Washington Times reported that Bush “met privately with more than 500 families of troops killed in action and with more than 950 wounded veterans,” often during private sessions.
President Barack Obama, meanwhile, made a late-night visit to an Air Force base in Dover, Delaware, in 2009 to receive the bodies of several soldiers who were killed in action.
“President Trump’s claim is wrong,” an Obama spokesman told HuffPost Monday. “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.”
Other former aides to Obama called out Trump for his comments Monday.
that’s a fucking lie. to say president obama (or past presidents) didn’t call the family members of soldiers KIA – he’s a deranged animal.
— Alyssa Mastromonaco (@AlyssaMastro44) October 16, 2017
This is an outrageous and disrespectful lie even by Trump standards. Also: Obama never attacked a Gold Star family. https://t.co/JgzTUIzWIa
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) October 16, 2017
Later in the press conference, a reporter pressed Trump on his claim about Obama. Trump backtracked a bit, saying: “I don’t know if he did. I was told that he didn’t often. And a lot of presidents don’t.”
“President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes. Maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. That’s what I was told. All I can do is ask my generals,” he added. “Other presidents did not call. They’d write letters. Some presidents didn’t do anything. But I like the combination. When I can, I like the combination of a call and also a letter.”
Trump didn’t then specify which presidents supposedly never called service members’ families.
Before he was president, Trump circulated conspiracy theories about Obama supposedly failing to personally reach out to the families of fallen troops. In August 2012, he tweeted an accusation that Obama didn’t actually sign some condolence letters himself because he was “too busy playing golf.”
Too busy playing golf? @BarackObama sends form letters with an electronic signature to the parents of fallen SEALs http://t.co/ELKcqTyr
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2012
Trump was actually playing golf on Oct. 7, the day one of the soldiers’ bodies was returned to Dover Air Force Base after the Islamic State ambush in Niger.
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