During a press conference on Monday, President Trump accused President Obama of failing to call the families of some soldiers who had died in the line of duty. Trump’s comments were misleading and inaccurate, and when he was pressed about them later in the news conference, he tried to backtrack.
“I don’t know if he did,” he said, trying to reverse his earlier comment. “I was told [Obama] didn’t often, and a lot of presidents don’t. They write letters.”
As Trump’s comments about Obama’s interactions with the families of dead soldiers continued to be criticized on Tuesday, the White House shifted gears, using quotes from unnamed officials in an attempt to deflect the heat back onto Obama. Multiple outlets ran with the unattributed quotes.
maybe twitter has broken my brain but this seems like an insane thing to let the WH get away with on background pic.twitter.com/hddDgyrcjT
— Steven Perlberg (@perlberg) October 17, 2017
NBC, the AP, and Axios — among other outlets — reported that a “White House official” told them Obama hadn’t called Gen. John Kelly, who now serves as Trump’s chief of staff, after his son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.
JUST IN: President Obama did not call Gen. John Kelly when his son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, White House official tells NBC News
— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) October 17, 2017
New: WH official says Obama didn't call Kelly after son killed; no immediate word if he reached out in other fashion https://t.co/rDb48LkGUI
— Jonathan Lemire (@JonLemire) October 17, 2017
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) October 17, 2017
The AP added that the anonymous White House official “did not immediately respond to questions about whether the former president reached out in some other fashion.” Axios added similar context.
While the White House didn’t disclose exactly which official was smearing Obama, Steven Perlberg of BuzzFeed later reported that Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was one of the officials confirming on background that Obama hadn’t called Kelly.
The White House’s attack on Obama came hours after Trump attempted to politicize the death of Kelly’s son during a radio interview with Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade.
While attempting to defend the comments he made during the press conference on Monday, Trump told Kilmeade, “You could ask General Kelly — did he get a call from Obama?”
On Tuesday afternoon, The Daily Beast reported that “senior White House officials signed off on this specific line of attack as legitimate communications strategy,” though officials they spoke with wouldn’t confirm if Kelly was alright with it.
While the Trump administration enlisted media outlets in its attempt to convince the public that Obama had disrespected Kelly following his son’s death, a person familiar with the situation told reporters on Tuesday that Kelly and his wife sat at First Lady Michelle Obama’s table during a White House breakfast honoring Gold Star Families in 2011.
Gen. Kelly and wife attended Gold Star families breakfast at WH in 2011 and sat at Mrs. Obama's table, person familiar with breakfast says.
— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) October 17, 2017
A year later, Kelly attended a White House dinner hosted by the Obamas that honored “those who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn,” according to NBC.
The specifics regarding the Kellys aside, Trump’s attack on Obama for supposedly disrespecting a Gold Star family is rich, given his own attacks on a Gold Star family during the presidential campaign.
During the 2016 Democratic convention, Khizr Khan, father of Muslim U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq while trying to protect his men during an attack, denounced Trump’s Islamophobic stances, and asked whether Trump had “even read the United States Constitution.”
“I will gladly lend you my copy,” Khan said, pulling a pocket-size copy of the Constitution from his jacket. “In the document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law.’”
In response, Trump attacked the Khan family. During an interview with ABC, Trump suggested Khan’s wife remained silent at the DNC because the Muslim faith prohibited her from speaking. He also claimed that Khan was just repeating the words of “Hillary’s speechwriters.”
Trump then claimed that he too had “sacrificed” because he had “created thousands of jobs” and contributed to veterans charities.
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) July 30, 2016
In a statement released Tuesday, the Khan family called Trump’s latest behavior “unbecoming.”
“[O]ne more time he has shown the nation [he is] undeserving of the leadership of our great nation,” they wrote.
While Trump was willing to use anonymous sources in an attempt to smear Obama, he’s repeatedly criticized their use when they appear in stories critical of him.
….it is very possible that those sources don't exist but are made up by fake news writers. #FakeNews is the enemy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2017
During a White House event last week, Trump accused mainstream media outlets of simply making up sources, saying, “When they make up stories like that, that’s just made up, and the generals will tell you that. And then they have their sources that don’t exist, in my opinion they don’t exist. They make up the sources. There are no sources.”