The day after Donald Trump claimed that he had contacted “virtually” every family of a United States military service member who died since his January 20 inauguration, the White House sent rush-delivery letters of condolence to at least three such Gold Star families who had not heard from Trump — even though their family members were killed two months ago, according to new reporting by The Atlantic magazine online, published on Saturday.
After being asked a question at a Monday press conference about why he had gone 12 days without publicly acknowledging the deaths of four U.S. soldiers in Niger in an ISIS ambush, Trump responded by discussing his supposed correspondence with families of slain military personnel — and falsely claiming that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, had not called the families of soldiers killed in military service.
“I think I’ve called every family of someone who’s died,” Trump said the following day in a Fox News interview, quickly qualifying his claim to “virtually everybody.”
Then on Wednesday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated Trump’s claim, saying that Trump “has made contact with all of the families that have been presented to him through the White House Military Office.”
What Huckabee Sanders did not say, and what was revealed Saturday by the Atlantic investigation, is that on the same day she made her statement, the White House was rushing to send letters to three sailors killed in the August 21 collision of the USS John McCain, a guided-missile destroyer ship, which collided with a commercial vessel off the coast of Singapore. Ten U.S. Navy sailors died in the disaster.
Eckels’ family members said that they received their letter on Friday, and the sending date was listed as Wednesday, October 18, the same day Huckabee Sanders claimed that Trump had “made contact with all of the families.”
Eckels’ father, Timothy Eckels Sr., said that he had previously received letters from McCain, as well as Defense Secretary James Mattis and “countless other officials” — but nothing from Trump until the rush-delivery letter arrived on Friday.
Eckels added that the tone of the Trump letter was “respectful” and “seemed genuine.”
According to The Atlantic, the magazine’s researchers were able to reach 12 Gold Star families — and combined with other reporting by the Associated Press and Washington Post, 25 of the 46 families of service members killed during Trump’s term had been contacted by media outlets.
Of those 25, 11 said that Trump had not contacted them in any way, while nine said that Trump had called. Another four said that they had received letters but no phone call. The final family of the 25 “were contacted by the White House, but declined to meet with the president,” according to The Atlantic.
According to a report by the Washington D.C. political publication Roll Call, when Trump made his Fox News claim to have contacted “virtually” every Gold Star family of his term, White House aides were well aware that he was not telling the truth — and were desperately scrambling to get Trump in contact with those he had so far ignored.
In fact, Roll Call found after examining internal Defense Department emails, at the time Trump made his claim on Tuesday, he did not even know the names of all of the soldiers killed on his watch. The emails showed that White House aides were frantically reaching out to the Pentagon to get a list of all soldiers killed since Trump’s inauguration on January 20, so he could now get in touch with those he had not contacted.
[Featured Image by Evan Vucci/AP Images]