President Donald Trump sparked headlines last week when the contents of his call to the family of a fallen U.S. soldier were made public. On Oct. 4, four American soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger. Trump was criticized Oct. 16 for not calling their families. In response to this criticism, Trump said that previous presidents had not called the families of soldiers who were killed in combat.
On Oct. 17, President Trump called Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, one of the soldiers killed in Niger. The contents of this call were made public by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, D-Florida, who was present when Trump made this call to Myeshia Johnson. Congresswoman Wilson said the president told Johnson that her husband “knew what he was getting himself into” and that “ [President Trump] was calling the fallen soldier, ‘Your guy.’ And he never said his name because he did not know his name.”
President Trump responded the next morning by tweeting, “Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!”
While the president has not provided said proof, he used his Chief of Staff John Kelly as an example to defend his actions. Trump said that President Obama had failed to call Kelly after his son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. Kelly then appeared at a news briefing to speak on the matter. He said that, while President Obama did not call his family, he sent a letter and Kelly did not find that disrespectful.
Kelly then gave an account of how slain soldiers are taken from the battlefield to their respective homes, how they are honored and how the families of slain soldiers are notified.
“There’s no perfect way to make that phone call. When I took this job and talked to President Trump about how to do it, my first recommendation was he not do it. Because it’s not the phone call that parents, family members, are looking forward to,” Kelly said regarding the choice to call families of slain soldiers.
Speaking of the call made to Johnson, Kelly stated that Trump “expressed his condolences in the best way that he could.”
Kelly said that he spent 90 minutes walking through Arlington National Cemetery reflecting upon the situation.
“Let’s not let this maybe last thing that’s held sacred in our society, a young man, young woman, going out and giving his or her life for our country, let’s try to somehow keep that — keep that sacred,” Kelly said.
Observers said that the power in Kelly’s statement was the emotional and personal experience he drew on to defend the president. Most Republicans have not commented on Kelly’s defense of the president. However, Kelly was criticised by women in the Congressional Black Caucus for the “blatant lies” he told about Congresswoman Wilson. The Caucus released a statement signed by 17 female members that called on Kelly to apologize for the these lies he told that challenged Wilson’s credibility and integrity.
“Oh, no. No. Never. Well, I’ll apologize if I need to, but for something like that, absolutely not. I stand by my comments,” Kelly said in a Fox News interview.