- President Trump said he called the families of “virtually” every servicemember killed in action since his inuaguration
- Emails obtained by Roll Call tell a different story
When President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he had contacted the families of “virtually everybody” who had been killed in the military since he took office, the White House did not even have an updated list of those who had died in action, according to an internal Department of Defence email obtained by Roll Call.
After Trump made the comment on Fox News Radio, White House advisers reportedly rushed to reach out to the Pentagon for a list of all the servicemembers who had died and the contact information for their families.
According to Roll Call, the White House sent an email with the subject line, “Condolence Letters Since 20 January 2017” to the Defence secretary’s office on the evening of the day Trump said he had reached out to all the families of soldiers who had been killed.
In return, Capt. Hallock Mohler, Defence Secretary James Mattis’ executive secretary, replied to the White House with an email that included information about how each servicemember had died and their family’s contact information, according to the report.
Mohler’s email also said that the president’s aides had “reached out to Ylber [Bajraktari, a National Security Council aide] looking for the following ASAP from DOD.”
Trump’s contact with Gold Star families came under fire this week, after The Associated Press reached out to 43 families and got responses from 20, nine of whom said they had heard from Trump and nine of whom said they had not, despite his remark that he had called the families of “virtually everybody” who had died in the line of duty.
The president also invited scrutiny over a phone call he made to a grieving widow whose husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, was one of the four troops killed during a mission in Niger.
Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida, who was present during the phone call, told the Miami ABC affiliate WPLG on Tuesday that Trump had told Myeshia Johnson her husband “knew what he signed up for, but when it happens, it hurts anyway.”
Wilson said she was riding in the car with Johnson — who was on her way to the airport to receive her husband’s body — when Trump called. She then told MSNBC on Wednesday morning that the soldier’s widow was “crying the whole time” and that when she hung up the phone, she looked at Wilson and said, “He didn’t even remember his name.”
Though Trump blasted Wilson’s account as “totally fabricated,” the soldier’s mother confirmed to The Washington Post that the congresswoman’s account was accurate, adding that Trump had “disrespected” her family.
As the controversy continued to unfold, Gold Star families came out en masse to dispute the president’s claims. That included Chris Baldridge, whose son, Army Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, died in Afghanistan in June. Baldridge told The Post that Trump had offered him a $US25,000 check, but did not follow through.
“I could not believe he was saying that, and I wish I had it recorded because the man did say this,” Baldridge said. “He said, ‘No other president has ever done something like this,’ but he said, ‘I’m going to do it.'”
After The Post’s story was published, a White House spokeswoman told the newspaper that the check had been sent, and CNN reported that it had been sent on the same day The Post’s story went out.
Allan Smith contributed reporting.
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