On Wednesday, the White House said Chief of Staff John Kelly is disgusted “by the way his son’s death has been politicized,” failing to address the fact that President Donald Trump brought up the topic.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she did not know whether the president had spoken with Kelly before mentioning his son’s death, in an attempt to deflect from Trump’s claim that Barack Obama did not contact the relatives of fallen soldiers when he was commander in chief.
“I think that General Kelly is disgusted by the way that this has been politicized and that the focus has become on the process and not the fact that American lives were lost,” Sanders said during the press briefing.
“I think he’s disgusted and frustrated by that. If he has any anger, it’s towards that,” she added.
Kelly’s son, Marine Second Lieutenant Robert Kelly, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, and his death was brought into the spotlight this week by Trump.
“You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?” Trump said during an interview with Fox News Radio on Tuesday. “I think I’ve called every family of someone who’s died,” he told host Brian Kilmeade.
His comments came after his previous remarks that he had written letters to the families of the four soldiers killed in Niger, suggesting his predecessor and others had failed to contact the families of soldiers killed in action.
“I have written them personal letters, they have been sent or they’re going out tonight but they were written over the weekend. I will at some point during the period of time call the parents and the families because I have done that traditionally,” MSNBC cited Trump’s remarks regarding the fallen U.S. elite soldiers in Niger last week.
“The traditional way if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, 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. They have made the ultimate sacrifice so generally, I would say that I like to call,” he added.
The president also came under fire on Wednesday after reportedly telling the widow of a soldier killed in combat that her husband “knew what he signed up for” in a phone call.
Further invoking Kelly’s experience as the father of a fallen soldier, Huckabee Sanders said of the phone call: “General Kelly was present for the call and thought it was completely appropriate.”
“He thought the call was respectful and he thought that the president did the best job he could under those circumstances to offer condolences on the part of the country,” Huckabee Sanders added.