Donald Trump on Monday claimed that he had called all, or almost all, of the families of United States military servicemembers who have died since he took office. However, a new investigation by the Associated Press confirmed on Friday what other media surveys have also discovered — that Trump was not being truthful when he claimed he made calls to “virtually everybody” — meaning families of soldiers killed on his watch.
“I have called, I believe, everybody,” Trump said during a Rose Garden press conference on Monday. “But certainly virtually everybody.”
He contrasted his description of his own family-calling practices with that of his predecessor President Barack Obama, whom Trump claimed “didn’t make calls.” Trump’s claim about Obama was quickly shown to be false as well.
An investigation by the Associated Press found that 43 U.S. military personnel have died under various circumstances — including combat fatalities and accidents — since Trump took office on January 20. That number is far fewer than the total who died under his two immediate predecessors, Obama and President George W. Bush. Under Bush, the U.S. started two major military operations — Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. Both continued into Obama’s term and into Trump’s as well, though Iraqi Freedom was renamed Operation New Dawn in 2010.
In the Afghanistan and Iraq operations alone, exclusive of other U.S. military operations, a combined total of nearly 7,000 U.S. servicemembers have been killed, according to Department of Defense statistics.
Compared to his predecessors, Trump has had far fewer calls to make. However, the Associated Press reached out to 18 families of the 43 soldiers killed during Trump’s nine months in office and found that nine of them, fully half, had not received calls from Trump. In some cases, the families were told by other military personnel that Trump would call, but the call never came.
Read the full AP report on Trump’s failure to reach out to the Gold Star families — that is, families who have suffered a military death — by visiting this link.
A similar investigation conducted by the Washington Post reached the families of 13 military members who have died during Trump’s term. The Post found that “about half had received phone calls.” The remainder had not heard from Trump.
After four soldiers were killed in the African country of Niger on October 4, Trump waited 12 days before mentioning the deaths publicly. When he called the family of slain Sergeant La David Johnson, he told Johnson’s widow that her husband “knew what he signed up for,” a remark that was widely condemned as insensitive and cruel.
Trump has denied making the comment, but when his chief of staff, retired General John Kelly — himself the father of a slain soldier — held a press conference on Thursday, he confirmed that Trump had made the remark, explaining only that Trump “expressed his condolences in the best way he could.”
In the AP investigation, at least two families said they were promised by military officials that Trump would call, but they waited, only to be disappointed when Trump ignored them.
Mark Hunter, whose 23-year-old son Jonathon Hunter was killed in Afghanistan in August, said he never received a call from Trump despite being told by a military casualty officer that Trump would call. Instead, he received a call from Vice President Mike Pence.
“Disappointed that he at least didn’t call and thank me for my son and our ultimate sacrifice,” Hunter told the AP. “That’s all I wanted to hear. He didn’t have to say nothing else. That’s all I wanted to hear. From him — not the vice president.”
Another study by the political site Talking Points Memo found that of the 22 servicemembers killed in either Iraq or Afghanistan during Trump’s term, five were African American. An African-American sailor was also killed in the USS Fitzgerald collision. Of those six African-American or biracial Gold Star families, at least four were ignored by Trump, and TPM could find no record of the other two being contacted by him.
[Featured Image by Evan Vucci/AP Images]