Kelly Delivers Fervent Defense of Trump Call to Soldier’s Widow – New York Times

WASHINGTON — John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, delivered a searing, personal defense of President Trump’s phone call this week to the widow of a slain Army soldier, describing on Thursday the trauma of learning about his own son’s death in Afghanistan and calling the criticism of Mr. Trump’s condolences unfair.

In a public relations mission that was part emotional catharsis and part political attack, Mr. Kelly lashed out at Representative Frederica S. Wilson, Democrat of Florida, for publicizing the call between Mr. Trump and Myeshia Johnson, whose husband, Sgt. La David T. Johnson, was one of four American soldiers killed in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger.

Mr. Kelly accused Ms. Wilson — who was in a car with Ms. Johnson when Mr. Trump called and is a longtime family friend — of being a publicity-seeking opportunist. He said that the congresswoman’s willingness to breach the confidentiality of Mr. Trump’s words is evidence of a broader decline in the values of an American society that no longer treats women, religion, “life” or Gold Star families as sacred.

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“It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation — absolutely stuns me,” Mr. Kelly said during a somber, 18-minute appearance in the White House briefing room. He said that he was so upset by Ms. Wilson’s appearances on TV news shows that he had to collect his thoughts by walking through the graves at Arlington National Cemetery for more than an hour.

He also displayed scorn for a society that he said does not appreciate the sacrifice of those in the military. “Most of you as Americans don’t know them,” he said, bemoaning that “there’s nothing in our country anymore that seems to suggest that selfless service to the nation is not only appropriate but required.”

A retired Marine general whose son Second Lt. Robert Kelly was slain in battle in 2010, Mr. Kelly has long guarded his personal story of loss even as he served as a high-profile public official. He broke that silence in dramatic fashion on Thursday, offering — from his personal and professional experience — a detailed, even excruciating description of what happens to the remains of those killed in combat, and how the grieving families back home are notified.

“Their buddies wrap them up in whatever passes as a shroud,” Mr. Kelly told an unusually hushed room filled with reporters. “They’re packed in ice, typically at the air head, and then they’re flown to — usually Europe, where they’re then packed in ice again and flown to Dover Air Force Base, where Dover takes care of the remains, embalms them, meticulously dresses them in their uniform with the medals that they’ve earned, the emblems of their service.”

He testified to the deep pain that parents feel when they get an early-morning knock on the door from an official to tell them that their son or daughter has been killed in action. “The casualty officer proceeds to break the heart of a family member,” Mr. Kelly said, his eyes reddening as he spoke.

And he described the moment that he got the knock on his own door: A military official telling him that his son “was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed,” Mr. Kelly recalled. “He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we were at war.”

Mr. Kelly also revealed, apparently for the first time, that he was standing next to Pfc. Chance Phelps, the subject of the HBO movie “Taking Chance,” as the Marine private was killed by hostile fire in Anbar Province in Iraq. The movie, which recounted the return of the Marine’s remains, “is worth seeing,” Mr. Kelly said.

Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, said Mr. Kelly’s blunt remarks will have impact because of the stark contrast with an administration that has repeatedly lost credibility with the public.

“It’s great power was you knew he was telling the truth, and in all specifics,” said Ms. Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist. “Kelly comes to the podium and it was credible, and you felt a kind of relief, and respect and gratitude.”

The surprise appearance by Mr. Kelly came after Mr. Trump and the White House were defensively consumed by the president’s actions this week — first, appearing to criticize former presidents for failing to call the families of fallen service members, and later for the words Mr. Trump chose to use in speaking with Sergeant Johnson’s widow.

Their conversation was first revealed by Ms. Wilson, who quoted Mr. Trump as saying that Sergeant Johnson “knew what he signed up for.” The congresswoman told reporters that she and the Johnson family were offended by the president’s bluntness.

Mr. Kelly’s initial grief on Thursday quickly gave way to an anger that was fueled by what he said was an unfair attack on his boss.

He said Mr. Trump was merely trying to express what Mr. Kelly had discussed with the president before the phone call — that soldiers like Sergeant Johnson were doing what they loved, and what they had chosen to do, when they were killed serving the country.

“That’s what the president tried to say to four families,” Mr. Kelly said. He later appeared to attack Ms. Wilson by noting that, during an emotional 2015 ceremony, a congresswoman had crassly claimed political credit for getting funding for an F.B.I. building in Miami that was named for fallen agents. Ms. Wilson’s congressional district includes parts of Miami.

“And we were stunned — stunned that she’d done it,” Mr. Kelly recalled, though he did not name Ms. Wilson. “Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.”

Ms. Wilson’s office declined to respond. The congresswoman also had pushed legislation to quickly name the F.B.I. building.

Mr. Kelly said that Mr. Trump had not intended to suggest during an impromptu White House news conference on Monday that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, had not done enough to honor the fallen. Mr. Trump’s words incensed former Obama administration officials.

Mr. Kelly said that he had advised Mr. Trump that presidents generally do not directly call family members of slain service members, and he confirmed that Mr. Obama had not called him when Lieutenant Kelly was killed — as Mr. Trump had alluded to this week.

“That was not a criticism; that was just to simply say, ‘I don’t believe President Obama called,’” Mr. Kelly said. He said that Lieutenant Kelly’s friends in Afghanistan called him in the hours after his son died, and noted that presidents often write condolence letters to grieving military families instead of calling.

“Those are the only phone calls that really mattered,” Mr. Kelly said, his voice cracking. “And yeah, the letters count, to a degree. But there’s not much that really can take the edge off what a family member is going through.”

Mr. Kelly said that he sought refuge during his trip to the national cemetery, surrounded by the gravestones of service members, some of whom “I put there because they were doing what I told them to do when they were killed.” Mr. Kelly commanded Marines in Iraq in 2008, one of the bloodiest years of the American-led war there.

But even if he found solace at Arlington National Cemetery, he clearly remained angry on Thursday as he addressed reporters. At one point, he would take questions from anyone who is “a Gold Star parent or sibling.” At another, he described the United States as a place that regularly breaches the sacred trusts that had once underpinned a polite society.

“When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country,” Mr. Kelly said. “Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life, the dignity of life, is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well. Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer.”

Mr. Kelly did not explain his critique or say whether he was referring to Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who embraced politics by speaking on behalf of Hillary Clinton last year at the Democratic National Convention.

Nor did he acknowledge the irony in his comments. Many people accused Mr. Trump of failing to respect Gold Star families by attacking Mr. Khan. And Mr. Trump’s behavior toward women in an “Access Hollywood” tape was seen by many as a failure to respect women.

Instead, Mr. Kelly said that he was “sorry” that most Americans are unfamiliar with the young people who fight in the military on behalf of a country that, in his view, takes them for granted.

“We don’t look down upon those of you who haven’t served,” Mr. Kelly said before concluding his remarks. “In fact, in a way, we’re a little bit sorry because you’ll never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kind of things our servicemen and women do. Not for any other reason than they love this country.”

“So just think of that,” he said. “And I do appreciate your time.”

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Without Saying ‘Trump,’ Bush and Obama Deliver Implicit Rebukes – New York Times

Neither of them mentioned President Trump by name but two of his predecessors emerged from political seclusion on Thursday to deliver what sounded like pointed rebukes of the current occupant of the Oval Office and the forces of division that propelled him to power.

In separate and unrelated appearances, former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both warned that the United States was being torn apart by ancient hatreds that should have been consigned to history long ago and called for addressing economic anxiety through common purpose. While not directly addressing Mr. Trump, neither left much doubt whom and what they had in mind.

Mr. Bush, the last Republican to hold the White House, spoke out at a conference he convened in New York to support democracy, noting that America first had to “recover our own identity” in the face of challenges to its most basic ideals. While Mr. Trump seeks to raise barriers to trade and newcomers and lashes out at targets with relish, Mr. Bush defended immigration and free trade, denounced nationalism and bigotry and bemoaned what he called the “casual cruelty” of current public discourse.

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“We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism, forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America,” Mr. Bush said. “We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade, forgetting that conflict, instability and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism. We’ve seen the return of isolationist sentiments, forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places.”

Mr. Obama was more circumspect, returning to the campaign trail for the first time since leaving office to support Democrats running for governor in New Jersey and Virginia. His speech in Newark was mostly a get-out-the-vote plea, but he defended his record on health care at a time when Mr. Trump has been trying to dismantle it, and he, too, pointed to the social, economic and racial schisms cleaving American society.

“What we can’t have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before that dates back centuries,” Mr. Obama told a campaign rally. “Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That has folks looking 50 years back. It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century. Come on!”

Both former presidents have largely avoided taking on Mr. Trump since he was inaugurated in January, aside from occasional statements or comments in interviews. But the sight of the two most recent presidents back on the public stage on the same day, however coincidental, reinforced the broader alarm among establishment leaders of both parties.

“The two presidents speaking out so forcefully and eloquently is a warning that some basic principles of democracy that both parties have long supported at home and abroad are in jeopardy,” said Antony J. Blinken, who served as Mr. Obama’s deputy secretary of state and attended Mr. Bush’s speech on Thursday.

The bipartisan apprehension was illustrated by Mr. Blinken’s presence. As managing director of the newly formed Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement led by Mr. Obama’s vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Blinken attended to kick off a joint project with the George W. Bush Institute and Freedom House to counter the erosion of support for democratic principles and institutions at home and abroad.

Similarly, former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who served under President Bill Clinton, joined former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who served under Mr. Bush, for a panel discussion with Nikki R. Haley, the ambassador to the United Nations. At times, the two former secretaries gently coached Ms. Haley to resist Mr. Trump’s efforts to cut the State Department budget.

Afterward, Mr. Bush and Ms. Albright hugged and sat together, with the former president draping his arm over her shoulders.

Mr. Bush also released a “call to action” report examining threats to the liberal democratic order and making recommendations for protecting American institutions. The paper was drafted by Peter H. Wehner, a former adviser in his White House, and Thomas O. Melia, a former State Department official under Mr. Obama.

For Mr. Bush, democracy and free trade are longtime themes, but there was an edge in his address that went beyond the usual nostrums. Asked by a reporter as he left the hall whether his message would be heard in the White House, Mr. Bush smiled, nodded slightly and said, “I think it will.”

In his speech, the former president lamented that “bigotry seems emboldened” and “our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

Pointing a finger at the nation’s leaders, he said, “We know that when we lose sight of our ideals, it is not democracy that has failed; it the failure of those charged with preserving and protecting democracy.”

He acknowledged public discontent. “We should not be blind to the economic and social dislocations caused by globalization,” he said. “People are hurting. They’re angry and they’re frustrated. We must hear and help them. But we cannot wish globalization away any more than we could wish away the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution.”

He also offered what seemed like a rejoinder to a president who uses Twitter as a weapon in a perpetual political war. “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry and compromises the moral education of children,” Mr. Bush said.

The Bush family has never been fond of Mr. Trump, who belittled Jeb Bush during their contest for the Republican presidential nomination last year. Neither the former president nor his father, former President George Bush, voted for Mr. Trump, and the two issued a joint statement in August denouncing white supremacists after the violence in Charlottesville, Va., which Mr. Trump blamed on “both sides.”

The younger Mr. Bush seemed to return to that on Thursday. “Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed,” he said.

He also emphasized the seriousness of the Russian effort to influence last year’s election, interference that Mr. Trump has dismissed as a “hoax” perpetuated by Democrats and the news media.

“America has experienced a sustained attempt by a hostile power to feed and exploit our country’s divisions,” Mr. Bush said. “According to our intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other.”

Advisers and allies to Mr. Bush said he spoke out because he was troubled about the larger forces he sees in the United States and around the world. Tom Bernstein, a longtime friend, said that the moment was a “stress test for democracy” and that Mr. Bush wanted to make his points in a “very direct but very dignified” way.

“We’re all called on to make sure that we get our country back, and I think all the things the president spoke of today, it’s a reaffirmation of American values,” Mr. Bernstein said.

Mr. Wehner said Mr. Bush was not interested in quarreling with Mr. Trump. “There’s enough political food fighting going on,” he said. “He doesn’t want to be part of that. It’s not part of that. What we need is people with some authority in American life to articulate a vision of the common good and the moral good and a vision of America.”

Emulating Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama has mostly stayed quiet since leaving office. But with accomplishments like his health care program under siege, he returned to the fray at least elliptically on Thursday. In appearing for Philip D. Murphy in Newark and Ralph S. Northam in Richmond, Va., Mr. Obama said the off-year elections next month would be a chance to cast a verdict on current politics.

“The world counts on America having its act together,” he told supporters in Newark. “The world is looking to us as an example. The world asks what our values and ideals are and are we living up to our creed.”

He was energized and comfortable and largely steered away from specific policy debates, but made a point of noting that he “created millions of job” and “by the way, we covered a whole bunch of folks with insurance, too.” His allusions to Mr. Trump, however, were still clear.

“Not only will you move New Jersey forward,” he said, “but you’re going to send a message to the country and you will send a message to the world that we are rejecting the politics of division, we are rejecting a politics of fear, that we are embracing a politics that says everybody counts.”

Correction: October 19, 2017

An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misspelled the given name of a former secretary of state. She is Madeleine K. Albright, not Madeline.

Follow Peter Baker on Twitter at @peterbakernyt.

Nick Corasaniti and Jonathan Martin contributed reporting.

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Pentagon defends US troops who searched for slain soldier missing in Niger – Washington Post


Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon on Thursday. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Senior Pentagon officials on Thursday defended the small team of American troops targeted in a deadly ambush earlier this month in Africa, an incident that has raised questions about why a slain soldier was not recovered for two days.

The Oct. 4 operation in Niger, now under U.S. military investigation, resulted in the deaths of four Special Forces soldiers. One was Sgt. La David Johnson, whose remains were not located until Oct. 6.

It’s highly unusual for that much time to pass before a slain soldier is recovered. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis suggested there were extenuating circumstances at play.

[The private life of Sgt. La David Johnson, the slain soldier ensnared in a Trump controversy]

“The U.S. military does not leave its troops behind, and I would just ask you not to question the actions of the troops who were caught in the firefight and whether they did everything they could in order bring everyone out at once,” Mattis said at the Pentagon.

The case has become increasingly sensitive because of a dispute between President Trump and Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.), who accused the commander in chief of making Johnson’s wife, Myeshia, cry in a phone call Tuesday evening, the day Johnson’s remains were returned to his home state of Florida. Wilson accused Trump of saying the soldier “must have known what he signed up for,” which Trump has vehemently denied.

Johnson, 25, was a mechanic attached to a 3rd Special Forces Group team that was partnered with Nigerien forces. They unexpectedly came under attack during a morning operation that also killed Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29.

[John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff whose son died in combat, defends president’s call to Gold Star widow]

In a separate news briefing Thursday, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., said it is a “myth” that U.S. troops ever stopped searching for Johnson, who was recovered after local Nigeriens spotted his remains and reported the discovery to authorities. After the ambush, additional military assets were devoted to finding Johnson, McKenzie said. 

He declined to provide further details.

“A lot of men and a lot of women searched very hard to find him, and it took us a little while to do that,” said McKenzie, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. “But we didn’t leave him behind, and we searched until we finally found him and we brought him home.”

McKenzie declined to say how Johnson became separated from the rest of his unit. The situation was complicated by an ongoing firefight, he added.

“More details will come out as the investigation proceeds,” he said. “We never left the battlefield, and we never stopped looking for him.”

The general declined to describe specifics of the search, citing the sensitivity of personnel-recovery operations. But either American, French or Nigerien troops, “and in some cases all three at the same time,” were actively involved, he said.

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John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff whose son died in combat, defends president’s call to Gold Star widow – Washington Post

White House chief of staff John F. Kelly said Thursday that President Trump “bravely” called families of four fallen soldiers, lending his credibility as a retired four-star general and the experience of losing his son in battle in defense of a president accused of politicizing tragedy.

Kelly told reporters in the White House briefing room that he counseled Trump on what to say to families of those killed on the battlefield. He also said “it stuns me” that Democratic Rep. Frederica S. Wilson listened in on a call, which was heard on speakerphone, between Trump and the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger.

Kelly confirmed Trump’s claim that then President Barack Obama had not called his family when his son, 1st Lt. Robert M. Kelly, was killed in Afghanistan seven years ago. But Kelly said he did not fault the former president for that choice. Kelly added that he had recommended to Trump that he not make such calls.

“I said to him, ‘Sir, there’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families,’” Kelly said.

Kelly’s voice grew thin at points during an extraordinary and emotional briefing called as questions about Trump’s handling of the Niger deaths and other military losses swamped the White House this week.

[Sgt. La David Johnson, the slain soldier ensnared in a Trump controversy]

Kelly took the podium from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about two minutes into the daily briefing, and the room of reporters fell silent. He spoke for about 18 minutes, answering a few questions before departing, and ignoring others that were shouted at him as he left.

Kelly did not bring up — nor was he asked — how he felt about Trump thrusting his son’s death into the political debate this week.

Trump had been asked Monday about his uncharacteristic silence following the deaths of four Special Forces soldiers on Oct. 4. Trump responded, in part, by saying that Obama and other predecessors had not called each family as he claimed he does. Trump invoked Kelly on Tuesday, saying “you could ask Gen. Kelly” whether Obama had called him when Robert died.

Kelly, one of several former military men Trump has brought into his administration, angrily called the actions of Wilson “selfish” and shocking.

The congresswoman spoke “in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise,” Kelly said.

Wilson, a family friend of the fallen soldier, had criticized Trump’s tone and choice of words in a call he made Tuesday to widow Myeshia Johnson.

In media interviews and on Twitter, Wilson said the president had been callous in telling Myeshia Johnson that her husband “must have known what he signed up for.”

Trump denied saying that, and accused the lawmaker of trying to score political points.

Kelly, who was listening in on the call, did not dispute or directly address the substance of Trump’s remarks to Johnson, but said the president had done a hard job well.

“He elected to make phone calls in the case of four young men who were lost in Niger. … Then he said, ‘How do you make these calls? If you’re not in the family, if you’ve never worn a uniform, you’ve been in combat, you can’t even imagine how to make that call. But he very bravely does make those calls.”

Trump had said Wednesday that the lawmaker’s account was “totally fabricated.”

“John Kelly’s trying to keep his job,” Wilson told Politico on Thursday. “He will say anything. There were other people who heard what I heard.”

Kelly, who became the highest-ranking military official to lose a child in Iraq or Afghanistan, watched both his sons follow him into the Marine Corps. When Robert died after stepping on a land mine in southern Afghanistan in 2010, Kelly and his sons had participated in 11 combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Kelly noted Thursday that his surviving son is currently serving in Iraq. He has been private about Robert’s death, even though both his and his sons’ military service clearly informs his thinking on White House foreign policy and national security decisions, several White House officials said.

“In my case, hours after my son was killed, his friends were calling us from Afghanistan, telling us what a great guy he was. Those are the only phones calls that really matter,” Kelly said.

“If you elect to call a family like this — and it’s about the most difficult thing you could imagine — there’s no perfect way to make that phone call.”

Kelly began his remarks with a stark and meticulous explanation of what happens to fallen military personnel overseas.

“Their buddies wrap them up in whatever passes as a shroud, puts them on a helicopter as a routine and sends them home,” he said. Their first stop along the way is when they’re packed in ice, typically at the airhead, and then they’re flown to,usually, Europe, where they’re then packed in ice again and flown to Dover Air Force Base.”

“Where Dover takes care of the remains, embalms them, meticulously dresses them in their uniform with the — with the medals that they’ve earned, the emblems of their service, and then puts them on another airplane linked up with a casualty officer escort that takes them home,” he said.

He also walked through the process of what happens when “a casualty officer” visits the home of a fallen soldier..

“The casualty officer proceeds to break the heart of a family member and stays with that family until — well, for a long, long time,” Kelly said. “Even after the internment. So that’s what happens. Who are these young men and women? They are the best one percent this country produces.”

Kelly said he had taken a 90-mionute walk among the graves at Arlington National Cemetery to clear his head Wednesday morning, when Wilson’s claims and Trump’s rebuttal dominated news coverage.

Kelly said little about the circumstances of the soldiers’ deaths in Niger, an African nation fighting an Islamist insurgency.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, asked Thursday at the Pentagon if he was angry that Gold Star families have been dragged into a political dispute, kept his response succinct.

“We honor our fallen in America, and that’s all I’ll say.”

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Kelly Speaks About Son’s Death and Criticizes Congresswoman Wilson – New York Times

WASHINGTON — John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, delivered an emotional, personal defense of President Trump’s call this week to the widow of a slain soldier, describing the trauma of learning about his son’s death in Afghanistan and calling the criticism of Mr. Trump’s call unfair.

Mr. Kelly said that he was stunned to see the criticism, which came from a Democratic congresswoman, Representative Frederica S. Wilson of Florida, after Mr. Trump delivered a similar message to the widow of one of the soldiers killed in Niger. He said afterward that he had to collect his thoughts by going to Arlington National Cemetery for more than an hour.

In a remarkable, somber appearance in the White House briefing room, Mr. Kelly, a retired Marine general whose son Second Lt. Robert Kelly was slain in battle in 2010, said he had told the president what he was told when he got the news.

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“He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed,” Mr. Kelly recalled. “He knew what he was getting into by joining that one percent. He knew what the possibilities were, because we were at war.”

“I was stunned when I came to work yesterday, and brokenhearted, when I saw what a member of Congress was doing,” he said. “What she was saying, what she was doing on TV. The only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go walk among the finest men or women on this earth.”

Mr. Kelly, who had long guarded his personal story of loss even as he served as a high-profile public official, broke that silence in dramatic fashion on Thursday. With no advance notice to reporters, Mr. Kelly offered poignant criticism of the news media and the broader society for failing to properly respect the fallen.

The appearance came after Mr. Trump and the White House were consumed by criticism after the president’s actions this week — first appearing to criticize former presidents for failing to call the families of fallen service members and later for the words Mr. Trump chose to use in speaking with the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson.

Mr. Kelly defended Mr. Trump by offering a detailed, even excruciating description of what happens to those killed in combat, including how the remains are packed in ice for the flights back to the United States. He testified to the deep pain that parents feel when they get an early-morning knock on the door from an official there to tell them that their son or daughter has been killed in action.

“The casualty officer proceeds to break the heart of a family member,” Mr. Kelly said, his eyes reddening as he spoke.

He said that presidents often are not among those who call family members directly, and he confirmed what Mr. Trump had alluded to publicly this week: that former President Barack Obama had not called him after Lieutenant Kelly was killed.

“That was not a criticism, that was simply to say I don’t believe President Obama called,” Mr. Kelly said, adding that President George W. Bush and other presidents did not always make personal phone calls to family members. He said Lieutenant Kelly’s friends in Afghanistan called him in the hours after his son died.

“Those were the only phone calls that really matter,” Mr. Kelly said. “Yeah, the letters count to a degree. But there’s not much that can take the edge off.”

The controversy over Mr. Trump’s remarks began even before he made the calls to the families, when former Obama administration officials took offense at the suggestion that Mr. Obama had not done as much as Mr. Trump to pay honor to the fallen.

Mr. Kelly said that Mr. Trump did not intend that to be a criticism of his predecessor, but rather was repeating what Mr. Kelly had briefed him on before he got the question at an impromptu news conference on Monday in the Rose Garden.

Mr. Kelly expressed frustration and even anger at the fact that the conversation between Mr. Trump and Sergeant Johnson’s widow was exposed to the world by Ms. Wilson, a friend of the family, who was in the car with the family when the president’s call came in.

“I thought at least that was sacred,” Mr. Kelly said, expressing dismay at other aspects of society that were no longer sacred, including women, religion and Gold Star families.

Ms. Wilson had publicized her criticism of Mr. Trump’s call, saying that the president had told Sergeant Johnson’s widow that he “knew what he signed up for,” and that the family was offended by Mr. Trump’s words.

Mr. Kelly said that Mr. Trump had tried, in the call, to express what Mr. Kelly had talked to him about ahead of time — that people like her husband were doing what they loved, and what they had chosen to do, when they were killed serving the country.

“That’s what the president tried to say to four families,” Mr. Kelly said.

Mr. Kelly said that he was so upset on Wednesday that he went to the cemetery to walk among the service members who had died fighting for the country.

“Some of them,” he said, “I put there because they were doing what I told them to do when they were killed.”

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Trump’s ‘Obsession With Obama’ – New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Top General’s Grief Becomes a Political Talking Point for the President” (news article, Oct. 18):

Lacking the grace, skill, empathy, humor, work ethic, knowledge, tact, thick skin and fitness for the job, all of which former President Barack Obama possessed in depth, President Trump displays his envy by lying about Mr. Obama: suggesting that he did not tend to fallen and wounded soldiers when Mr. Obama did so constantly; suggesting that the Iran nuclear deal is terrible and that the Affordable Care Act is a failure — both untrue, and Mr. Trump is unable to explain what is wrong with either.

Mr. Trump is the same man who led the “birther” charge against Mr. Obama and accused the former president of wiretapping his office — both charges false. Mr. Trump’s obsession with Mr. Obama seems abnormal.

JOHN E. COLBERT
ARROYO SECO, N.M.

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Gold Star family from Zebulon not angry at President Trump for late promise – WTVD-TV

ZEBULON, North Carolina (WTVD) —

The grieving family of a fallen soldier says it harbors no anger nor resentment toward President Donald Trump for being late on his offer to donate money.

Stay on top of breaking news stories with the ABC11 News App

Jessie Baldridge, whose 22-year-old stepson Cpl. Dillon C. Baldridge died in Afghanistan, confirms the president offered $25,000 of his own money during a condolence call last summer.

“We just thought he was saying something nice,” Baldridge told ABC11. “We got a condolence letter from him and there was no check, and we kind of joked about it. We didn’t take to social media and didn’t complain.”

That check, according to White House officials, is now in the mail.

“There is a substantial process that can involve multiple agencies anytime the President interacts with the public, especially when transmitting personal funds,” a White House official said Wednesday. “The check has been in the pipeline since the President’s initial call with the father. The President has personally followed up several times to ensure that the check was being sent. As stated earlier, the check has been sent.”

RELATED: Family, friends honor North Carolina soldier killed in Afghanistan

Spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said any suggestion the president didn’t intend to follow through on his pledge, despite the months that have passed, is unfair.

“It’s disgusting that the media is taking something that should be recognized as a generous and sincere gesture, made privately by the president, and using it to advance the media’s biased agenda,” Walters said.

Dillon Baldridge was killed in June when an Afghan security officer opened fire on his American counterparts in an insider attack. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

The Taliban took responsibility for the attack and claimed one of its terrorists “infiltrated” the army to carry out the ambush, which killed two other soldiers. The 2012 graduate of Franklinton High School in Youngsville had always dreamed of being a soldier.

“I feel betrayed,” Chris Baldridge, Dillon’s father, told ABC11 earlier this summer. “(Dillon’s) over there training people to take care of themselves, and then they turn on us.”

Now four months later, the Baldridges continue to grieve and much prefer their focus and attention remain on their beloved hero.

“The money (from President Trump) doesn’t mean anything to us at all,” Jessie Baldridge told to ABC11. “I would give my own life to have Dillon back.”

Dillon leaves behind his mother, stepparents, and four siblings, including a baby sister he’ll never meet. He’s buried at a military cemetery in Boone.

(Copyright ©2017 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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Trump’s Condolence Call to Soldier’s Widow Ignites an Imbroglio – New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s condolence call to the widow of a slain soldier exploded into a vicious row that swamped the White House on Wednesday, with the soldier’s grieving mother accusing the president of disrespecting her family and a defiant Mr. Trump complaining that his words had been cynically twisted for political purposes.

The back-and-forth made a furious spectacle of what is, at the best of times, one of the most emotionally wrenching contacts between the commander in chief and a bereaved citizen. It overshadowed any talk of Mr. Trump’s legislative priorities and instead recalled his history of feuding with military families or even, as in the case of Senator John McCain, a war hero.

Twelve days after four Americans were killed in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger, the president called the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was among the slain, and said that her husband “knew what he signed up for,” referring to the soldier only as “your guy,” according to Sergeant Johnson’s mother and a Democratic congresswoman, who both listened to the call.

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Mr. Trump angrily disputed that account, insisting that he “had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife, who sounded like a lovely woman.” The White House accused the congresswoman, Frederica S. Wilson of Florida, of politicizing a sacred ritual after Mr. Trump initially said she “fabricated” it.

It was, to a great extent, a self-inflicted wound. Mr. Trump opened the issue on Monday when he deflected a question about why he had not spoken publicly about the deaths of the four soldiers by falsely accusing his predecessor, President Barack Obama, of not contacting the families of fallen troops.

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump dragged his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, into the dispute. He told reporters that Mr. Obama had not called Mr. Kelly, a former Marine Corps general, when his son Second Lt. Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in action in Afghanistan. Mr. Kelly, who has long been reluctant to talk about the loss of his son, did not comment on the issue.

But the White House presented Mr. Kelly as a character witness on Wednesday, noting that he was present for Mr. Trump’s call on Tuesday afternoon to Sergeant Johnson’s wife, Myeshia Johnson, and viewed it as a respectful expression of presidential sympathies.

“He thought that the president did the best job he could under those circumstances to offer condolences on behalf of the country,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary. She said Mr. Kelly is “disgusted by the way this has been politicized, and that the focus has become on the process and not the fact that American lives were lost.”

It was Mr. Trump, however, who first put a spotlight on politics and process by comparing his practices to those of Mr. Obama and other presidents. Mr. Obama did, in fact, call or meet with the families of multiple fallen soldiers, though he sent letters to many others. Mr. Trump said he planned to call as many families of fallen soldiers as was “appropriate.”

His call to Ms. Johnson came as she and her two young children were in a limousine at Miami International Airport awaiting a plane carrying the remains of Sergeant Johnson. Mr. Trump spoke for three to five minutes, said Ms. Wilson.

“When she got off the phone, she said, ‘He didn’t even know his name. He kept calling him, ‘Your guy,’” Ms. Wilson said of Ms. Johnson. “He was calling the fallen soldier, ‘your guy.’ And he never said his name because he did not know his name. So he kept saying, ‘Your guy. Your guy. Your guy.’ And that was devastating to her.”

Mr. Trump flatly dismissed Ms. Wilson’s account and suggested he would produce evidence to discredit it.

“Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!” he wrote in an early morning Twitter post. He repeated his denial hours later, before a White House meeting with senators. “I didn’t say what that congresswoman said,” the president said. “Didn’t say it at all, she knows it.”

Ms. Wilson quickly fired back on Twitter. “I still stand by my account of the call b/t @realDonaldTrump and Myeshia Johnson. That is her name, Mr. Trump. Not ‘the woman’ or ‘the wife’” she wrote in a post.

Sergeant Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, backed the congresswoman’s version. “Yes, he did state that comment,” Ms. Jones-Johnson said, via message on Facebook, of Mr. Trump’s remark that her son “knew what he signed up for.”

By midafternoon, the White House was no longer disputing Ms. Wilson’s account of Mr. Trump’s choice of words. Ms. Sanders said the White House did not tape the call. But she said Ms. Wilson had willfully mischaracterized the spirit of the conversation.

“This is a president who loves our country very much, who has the greatest level of respect for men and women in uniform, and wanted to call and offer condolences to the family,” Ms. Sanders said. “To try to create something from that, that the congresswoman is doing, is frankly appalling and disgusting.”

The dispute over Mr. Trump’s condolence call topped several contentious issues that marked yet another rancorous day at the White House.

The president kept up his feud with the National Football League over players who take a knee in protest during the playing of the national anthem. And he revived his unproven charges that the former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had lied, leaked information and protected Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump’s opponent in last year’s presidential election.

But the way Mr. Trump has handled grieving military families loomed over all, and thrust the sensitive issue of how presidents deal with the casualties of war to center-stage. His reference to Mr. Obama’s lack of calls also drew furious responses from the former president’s aides and expressions of discomfort from former military commanders.

The feud with Sergeant Johnson’s family was reminiscent of a public fight Mr. Trump began with the parents of a Muslim American soldier, Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004. The soldier’s parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, appeared at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, where Mr. Khan criticized Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump’s fraught relationship with Gold Star families — those who have lost relatives in war — took another turn with the White House’s disclosure on Wednesday that it had sent a check for $25,000 to Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, who was shot to death by an Afghan police officer, along with two other American soldiers, in June.

Mr. Trump had promised the check to Sergeant Baldridge’s father, Chris, in a phone call a few weeks after his son’s death, according to The Washington Post. But the president did not send the money until the newspaper inquired about it on Wednesday.

Some experts sympathized with the challenge Mr. Trump faced in placing condolence calls.

“It’s always been difficult for presidents,” said Peter D. Feaver, an expert in civilian-military relations at Duke University, “but in some ways it’s become more difficult as the number of casualties dwindled, so each one can be individualized to a much greater extent.”

That task, Mr. Feaver said, is even harder when the call does not go well because “the family member has an ax to grind, and wants to grind it on the face of the president.”

Other calls Mr. Trump has made to families have been well received. The president called Eddie Lee, the father of First Lt. Weston C. Lee, who was killed in April by a roadside bomb in Iraq, and told him, “I bet he never gave you a minute’s trouble as a child.”

“It’s true,” Mr. Lee said, chuckling, “he didn’t.”

“The president was just so nice and caring, you could hear it in his voice, you could tell what a caring family man he is,” said Mr. Lee, who volunteered “I voted for Trump and I’d vote for him again.”

But the president’s call to Sergeant Johnson’s widow illustrated the pitfalls to his improvisational approach, according to other experts. Kori Schake, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University who specializes in civilian-military relations, said the account of Mr. Trump’s call suggested he did not follow the “time-honored rituals” of such calls.

“My guess is that he thought he was showing respect for the toughness and patriotism of people who sacrifice for something bigger than themselves, and just did it clumsily,” Ms. Schake said.

Correction: October 18, 2017

An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to Sgt. La David T. Johnson. He was serving in Africa with an Army Special Forces unit; he was not a Green Beret.

Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting.

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Trump sends $25000 check to fallen soldier’s family on same day as Washington Post report – CNN

A White House official confirms to CNN that the President sent a personal check Wednesday to the family of Army Cpl. Dillon Baldridge Wednesday. Baldridge, 22, was killed in June by an Afghan police officer.
According to the Post, Trump called Chris Baldridge in June, weeks after his son was killed. During the call, the Post reported, Trump offered him $25,000 and said he would instruct his staff to establish an online fundraising page for the family.
“The check has been sent,” Lindsay Walters, White House spokeswoman, told CNN on Wednesday. “It’s disgusting that the media is taking something that should be recognized as a generous and sincere gesture, made privately by the President, and using it to advance the media’s biased agenda.”
Trump, Dem congresswoman feud over his remarks to widow of fallen soldierTrump, Dem congresswoman feud over his remarks to widow of fallen soldier
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told CNN that it was a personal check from Trump.
The timing of Trump’s donation raised questions because the Post reported Wednesday that White House official initially declined to discuss the events in detail but later told them the check had been sent.
“‘I’m going to write you a check out of my personal account for $25,000,’ and I was just floored,” Baldridge told the Post of his conversation with Trump. “I could not believe he was saying that, and I wish I had it recorded because the man did say this. He said, ‘No other president has ever done something like this,’ but he said, ‘I’m going to do it. “
A White House spokesperson, speaking on background, said the check has been “in the pipeline” since the President’s conversation with the father.
“The President has personally followed up several times to ensure that the check was being sent. As stated earlier the check has been sent,” the spokesperson said.
When asked why it took so long for the funds to be sent, the spokesperson added: “There is a substantial process that can involve multiple agencies anytime the President interacts with the public, especially when transmitting personal funds. In this situation there were other agencies involved.”
The spokesperson did not say which agencies were involved or elaborate on the process.
The lives of the 4 US soldiers killed in NigerThe lives of the 4 US soldiers killed in Niger
Knowledge of Trump’s pledge to Baldridge comes amid the ongoing flap about how presidents handle condolence calls to families of those killed in action and Trump’s feud with a Democratic congresswoman over his call with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed earlier this month in Niger.
Trump called Myeshia Johnson on Tuesday and, according to Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, the President said that the serviceman killed “knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt.”
Trump denied that he ever said that.
“I didn’t say what that congresswoman said. Didn’t say it at all,” Trump told reporters during a Wednesday meeting on tax reform in the Cabinet Room. “She knows it. And she now is not saying it. I did not say what she said.”
At the same time, the White House is dealing with Trump stating that President Barack Obama didn’t call all the families those killed during his presidency and suggesting that reporters ask his chief of staff, retired Gen. John Kelly, whether Obama called him after his son died in Afghanistan.
Kelly’s son Robert died when he stepped on a landmine in Afghanistan in 2010. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, was a lieutenant general at the time.

CNN’s Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.

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Fallen soldier’s mother: ‘Trump did disrespect my son’ – Washington Post

President Trump’s response to the deaths of four soldiers in Niger is causing an uproar after Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla) said he told Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow that her husband “knew what he was signing up for.” (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

President Trump in a tweet Wednesday denied that he had told the widow of a soldier killed in an ambush in Africa this month that her husband “must have known what he signed up for.”

But the mother of the fallen soldier stood behind the account, saying that Trump “did disrespect” the family with his comments during a phone call.

Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2017

The president was reacting to a Florida congresswoman saying the family of Sgt. La David T. Johnson was “astonished” by that remark during a phone call from Trump on Tuesday. Trump said he has “proof” that the conversation did not happen as recounted by Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D.) He did not elaborate, but the claim again raised questions about whether the president tapes calls and conversations.

Wilson told MSNBC on Wednesday that Johnson’s widow, Myeshia, was shaken by the exchange.

“She was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part.”

Wilson went on to say Trump “was almost like joking. He said, ‘Well, I guess you knew’ — something to the effect that ‘he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway.’ You know, just matter-of-factly, that this is what happens, anyone who is signing up for military duty is signing up to die. That’s the way we interpreted it. It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy, unnecessary. I was livid.”

“She was in tears. She was in tears. And she said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’”

On Tuesday, Wilson told The Washington Post that Trump had told Johnson’s widow, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”

Wilson said she was riding in a limousine with Johnson when the president called, and said she heard the conversation on speakerphone.

“He made her cry,” Wilson said.

Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told The Post on Wednesday that she was in the car during the call from the White House and that “President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.”

The body of Sgt. La David T. Johnson arrived in Miami on Oct. 17. The U.S. Special Forces soldier was killed at the border of Niger and Mali on Oct. 4 in the deadliest combat incident since President Trump took office. (WPLG/AP)

Jones-Johnson, speaking to The Post via Facebook Messenger, declined to elaborate.

But asked whether Wilson’s account of the conversation between Trump and the family was accurate, she replied: “Yes.”

[Twelve days of silence, and then a swipe at Obama: How Trump handled deadliest combat incident of his presidency]

The White House did not confirm or deny Wilson’s account on Tuesday.

“The President’s conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private,” a White House official said in a statement.

The White House had said Tuesday that Trump placed calls Tuesday to the families of all four service members killed in Niger on Oct. 4. The calls followed Trump’s claims Monday and Tuesday that his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, had not often made such calls to families. Former Obama administration officials strongly dispute that claim, saying Obama engaged families of fallen service members in various ways throughout his presidency.

Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Fla., was found dead after initially being reported as missing after the attack.

He was a driver assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) based in Fort Bragg, N.C.

John Wagner and Philip Rucker contributed

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