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After Trump brings chief of staff into controversy over condolence calls, he phones families of soldiers killed in Niger

By Noah Bierman
Tribune Washington Bureau

October 18. 2017 1:28AM
President Donald Trump applauds before speaking at the Heritage Foundation's President's Club Meeting in Washington on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, facing blowback for his delay in calling the families of four soldiers who died in combat, on Tuesday invoked the fallen son of his chief of staff, retired Gen. John F. Kelly.

“As far as other presidents, I don’t know, you could ask Gen. Kelly, did he get a call from Obama? I don’t know what Obama’s policy was,” Trump said in an interview on Fox News Radio on Tuesday.

Trump had faced criticism for failing to call the families of four soldiers killed in Niger on Oct. 6. It intensified Monday after Trump falsely claimed that Obama and other predecessors failed to call families.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement late Tuesday that Trump had subsequently called the families.

“President Trump spoke to all four of the families of those who were killed in action in Niger,” she said. “He offered condolences on behalf of a grateful nation and assured them their family’s extraordinary sacrifice to the country will never be forgotten.”

Kelly seldom talks about his son, 2nd Lt. Robert M. Kelly, 29, who died from a Taliban land mine in Afghanistan in 2010.

A White House official who demanded anonymity said Obama did not call the elder Kelly after the death. The official did not say whether Kelly received a letter.

Obama’s office declined to comment. Kelly, who was a general when his son died, has not spoken about his interaction with Obama on the subject.

Kelly attended a breakfast the Obamas hosted in May 2011, six months after his son’s death, and was seated at first lady Michelle Obama’s table, according to a person familiar with the breakfast who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

Obama officials angrily denied the assertion that he had failed to make similar calls. Alyssa Mastromonaco, a deputy chief of staff for Obama, used profanity in an angry tweet on Monday, calling the claim a lie. “He’s a deranged animal,” she said of Trump.

“I really speak for myself. I am not speaking for other people. I don’t know what (George W.) Bush did. I don’t know what Obama did,” Trump said in the Fox radio interview. “I believe his policy was somewhat different than my policy. I can tell you, my policy is I have called every one of them.”

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