White House chief of staff John Kelly has defended Donald Trump’s handling of families of US military heroes who died in action.
Mr Kelly has remained silent for years over the death of his own son Robert in Afghanistan in 2010 and revealed President Obama did not call him after the tragic news – but that was not a criticism.
Mr Kelly’s comments follow the row between Mr Trump and Democratic congresswoman Frederica Wilson who says she overheard the president tell the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson who was killed in Niger that “he knew what he signed up for”.
Mr Trump, who denied he had been disrespectful, spoke of his commitment of contacting next of kin and brought Mr Kelly into the controversy by saying he wondered if President Obama had called the former Marine general after his son’s death.
Mr Kelly said he was “broken-hearted” that troops who died on the battlefield were being politicised.
In an unannounced statement on a podium at the White House, Mr Kelly explained how Mr Trump had sought his advice on contacting the families of fallen heroes.
Mr Kelly said: “There’s no perfect way to make that phone call. When I took this job and talked to President Trump about how to do it my first recommendation was he not do it because it’s not the phone call parents, family members are looking forward to.
“He asked about previous presidents. I said, I can tell you that President Obama, who was my commander-in-chief when I was on active duty, did not call my family. That was not a criticism that was just to say I don’t believe President Obama called.”
But when Mr Trump indicated he wanted to contact families, Mr Kelly revealed to him what General Joseph Dunford, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told him when his son was killed.
Mr Kelly recalled that Mr Dunford said his son “was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed”.
“He knew what he was getting into. He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war.”
Mr Kelly added that Mr Dunford told him that “when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this Earth, his friends”.
“That’s what the president tried to say to four families the other day,” he said.
Rounding on Frederica Wilson, he went on: “It stuns me that a member of Congress listened into that conversation, it stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred.”
Robert Kelly, 29, was killed when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
Mr Kelly said that his family got calls from Robert’s friends in Afghanistan attesting to his character.
Mr Trump has also been criticised after a father of a fallen soldier claimed the president had offered him $25,000 after the death of his son but the cheque never arrived.