Politics & Government

Why Trump cited the 2010 death of John Kelly’s son in Afghanistan to criticize Obama

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly listens to a reporter’s question during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington last Thursday.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly listens to a reporter’s question during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington last Thursday. AP

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had to endure every parent’s worst nightmare when his son, 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan in 2010 and died.

Now, President Donald Trump is calling into question whether former President Barack Obama ever called Kelly after that happened – dragging Kelly into a spat Trump started between the two presidents over whether Obama called the families of fallen soldiers.

“For the most part, to the best of my knowledge, I think I’ve called every family of somebody that’s died, and it’s the hardest call to make, and I said it very loud and clear yesterday. The hardest thing for me to do is do that,” Trump said Tuesday morning during an interview with Fox News radio host Brian Kilmeade.

“Now, as far as other representatives, I don’t know,” he continued. “I mean, you could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama? You could ask other people. I don’t know what Obama’s policy was. I write letters, and I also call.”

Those comments follow remarks Trump made over the issue in the Rose Garden Monday, deflecting questions over why he had not spoken publicly about the killing of four Green Berets in an ambush in Niger two weeks ago. After saying he had written letters to the families and planned to call them next week, he criticized former presidents.

“If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls,” Trump said. “A lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate.”

Former White House officials under Obama fiercely denied Trump’s statement, with Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, calling Trump’s claim “an outrageous and disrespectful lie even by Trump standards.”

Alyssa Mastromonaco, a former senior aide to Obama, tweeted that it was “a (expletive) lie” and called Trump a “deranged animal.”

That was the build up to Trump’s comment about Kelly Tuesday morning. A White House official said Kelly never received a call from Obama, according to Politico.

However, Kelly and his wife did attend a breakfast for Gold Star families at the White House in 2011 and sat at the table of former First Lady Michelle Obama, according to ABC News. That was six months after the death of Kelly’s son.

Neither Kelly nor Obama has spoken publicly about the matter as of early Tuesday afternoon.

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