The pushback – and the outrage – began immediately.
Johnson, 25, and three other Green Berets were killed October 4 in Niger during an ambush carried out by militants believe linked to the Islamic State.
Trump singled out former President Barack Obama, saying he had not made such calls, an assertion that quickly drew angry rebukes from former Obama aides.
On Tuesday, he followed his initial comments with more assertions, offering a specific example.
“We grieve with you”.
Letters were drafted to Johnson’s widow over the weekend – and they were mailed once all the information was confirmed.
But as he continued, his response got less clear.
Then came a promise of more.
Trump has had a fraught relationship with grieving Gold Star families since the 2016 campaign, when he feuded with the parents of slain Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004. Wilson called Trump’s remarks in the phone call insensitive. He turned it into an attack on his predecessors in office.
He equivocated Tuesday as the record made plain that his characterization was false.
The facts simply don’t support such a statement.
“I felt very, very badly about that”, Trump said Monday.
Though Obama’s spokesperson declined to comment on this matter, Benjamin Rhodes, his former deputy national security advisor took to Twitter to say, “This is an outrageous and disrespectful lie even by Trump standards”.
He placed himself at the top of the list, saying on Tuesday, “I think I’ve called every family of someone who’s died” while past presidents didn’t place such calls. “Sad!” Trump wrote without specifying what proof he had.
The family spoke with Vice President Mike Pence at a ceremony honoring the return of the soldier’s remains.
“Mr. President, you crossed the line there”, Holder said on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper”. “If he has any anger, it’s towards that”, she added. “We’re trying to bury our son”.
“But he didn’t leave”. “He made her cry”, Wilson said, adding that she wanted to take the phone and “curse him out”, but the Army sergeant holding the phone wouldn’t let her talk to the president.
No White House protocol demands that presidents speak or meet with the families of Americans killed in action – an impossible task in a war’s bloodiest stages.
Kelly’s son, Marine Second Lieutenant Robert Kelly, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, and his death was brought into the spotlight this week by Trump. Marine Lieutenant General Frank McKenzie, the director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, told reporters the mission was “not created to be a combat patrol”, but there was a “pretty good level of planning” and French forces responded within 30 minutes.
On CNN Wednesday, Wilson said Trump did not seem to remember Johnson’s name in the call and that she wanted “to curse him out”.
Trump has been criticized for not reaching out right away to relatives of the four killed in Niger. “The hardest thing for me to do is [make those calls]”, Trump said. And now we know there were others in the auto, they may be sought out. “I don’t know”, he said of past calls. You could ask other people.
As for whether Obama called Kelly, White House officials said later that Obama did not call Kelly, but White House visitor logs show that Kelly and his wife attended the Obamas’ lunch with Gold Star families.
Except, as Baldridge told the Post, Trump never sent him a check for ,000, and the administration never set up an online fundraiser as promised. The president, she noted, was offering condolences on behalf of the country.