President Trump renewed his claim Tuesday that former president Barack Obama failed to call families of fallen U.S. service members, adding “you could ask General Kelly” whether the White House chief of staff got a call when his Marine son was killed.
“I think I've called every family of someone who's died,” Trump said during an interview.
“As far as other representatives, I don't know,” Trump told Fox News radio host Brian Kilmeade.
“You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?”
Kelly's son, Marine 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed in 2010, while serving in Afghanistan. A White House official said Kelly did not receive a call from Obama at the time. The official requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record.
Kelly has spoken movingly of his son's death, which occurred when the elder Kelly was himself a Marine general.
Trump had claimed Monday that other presidents, including Obama, did not call surviving families.
Challenged on that point during a news conference, Trump said he had been told that Obama rarely made such calls.
He said he had called nearly every affected family, and that he likes to call when he feels the time is right. Trump also said he was writing letters and has planned phone calls with families of four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger on Oct. 4.
After the president spoke Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that Trump "spoke to all four of the families of those who were killed in action in Niger. He offered condolences on behalf of a grateful nation and assured them their family's extraordinary sacrifice to the country will never be forgotten."
A former White House official flatly denied Trump's claim that Obama rarely called families of military lost during his administration.
“President Trump’s claim is wrong. 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,” the former official said.
The references to Obama's actions are to the area of Arlington National Cemetery where war dead are buried, the military medical center where some wounded warriors are treated and to Dover Air Force Base, the Delaware airfield where the bodies of service members killed overseas are returned to the United States.
It appears the Obamas also had some contact with Kelly and his wife after the loss of their son.
Obama hosted a breakfast for “Gold Star” families — those who had lost a family member who was in uniform — on May 30, 2011, according to the White House public schedule for that day. Kelly and his wife were invited, and White House records indicate they attended.
A person familiar with the event said the couple were seated at then-first lady Michelle Obama's table.
A former spokesman for Obama, Ned Price, said Trump's comment amounted to “inane cruelty” to Kelly.
“Kelly, a man of honor & decency, should stop this inane cruelty. He saw up-close just how —& how much — Obama cared for the fallen's families,” Price tweeted Tuesday.