Gen. John Kelly has for the last seven years avoided public mentions of his son’s combat death in Afghanistan, with those close to Kelly saying he “recoils” at attempts to use grieving families to score political points.
But Donald Trump did just that — and invoked the name of Kelly’s deceased son in what many see as a continued attack against Barack Obama.
Trump came under fire this week for his failure to publicly address the deaths of four U.S. service members in an ambush in Niger earlier this month. The attack was reportedly linked to ISIS and was the single worst attack against U.S. troops during Trump’s presidency, yet the president failed to acknowledge the deaths publicly. A reporter asked Trump this week why he had gone nearly two weeks without mentioning the deaths, and Trump responded with what appeared to be an attack against Obama.
“The traditional way if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls,” Trump said (via the New York Daily News). “A lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it.”
When Trump was pressed on his answer he appeared to backtrack a bit, admitting that he did not know for sure what Obama may have done, but the White House later issued an official statement backing Trump’s assertion.
Trump’s line of attack against Obama continued after this statement, with Trump using the deceased son of his chief of staff to continue attacking Obama. In an interview with Fox News radio on Tuesday, Trump questioned whether Obama called Gen. Kelly after his son, 2nd Lt. Robert M. Kelly, was killed in Afghanistan.
“I think I’ve called every family of someone who’s died,” Trump said in the interview with Brian Kilmeade. “As far as other representatives, I don’t know. You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?”
Like Trump’s initial claim that Obama did not call the families of killed U.S. service members, this did not appear to be true either. While it was not clear whether Barack Obama personally called the family of Robert Kelly, they were invited to a breakfast at the White House for families of those killed in service of the country. Kelly and his wife sat at a table with First Lady Michelle Obama, the Washington Post noted.
Donald Trump’s use of Robert Kelly in his attack against Obama appears to betray Gen. John Kelly’s careful attempts to keep his son’s death separated from politics. The Washington Post report noted that Gen. Kelly went out of his way not to speak about his son’s death publicly, and even avoided mention four days after Robert’s death when John Kelly delivered a speech commemorating two other Marines who had been killed in combat.
The report went on to say that Kelly was particularly sensitive about using any kind of grieving parents as a political tool, even taking on Donald Trump’s attempts to do so. An unnamed White House official also told the Washington Post that Gen. John Kelly “recoils at attempts to politicize parents and families in this manner.”
“Kelly has previously resisted White House efforts to link children’s deaths with politics and policy. Earlier this year, when Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to establish the VOICE office — Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement — Kelly, then the homeland security secretary, tried to push back internally against efforts to highlight ‘angel’ moms and families whose kids were killed by undocumented immigrants at the rollout of the new office, one department official said. The families were featured at the event but did not have a speaking role.”
While Donald Trump is taking plenty of criticism from across the political spectrum for using Gen. John Kelly’s dead son in his political attack against Obama, Kelly himself has not spoken publicly about Trump’s statement.
[Featured Image by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images]