Here’s the problem with POTUS dragging Obama into it when asked if he’d called the families of the troops killed in Niger yet. By doing that, he had to know the media was going to fact-check him to a molecular level on his and Obama’s respective habits of condolence towards Gold Star families. Comparing himself to any past president in that regard is an invitation to a hostile press to find ways that Trump is lacking. Comparing himself to their favorite president is waving a red cape in front of a bull. If you’re going to drag Obama on something as politically charged as sensitivity towards grieving wives, mothers, and fathers, you had better be sure your own practices are letter-perfect. No awkward phone calls with relatives, no oversights in making phone calls to other families.
Letter-perfect. Or you’ll pay.
Before you read this, pause and remember that all he had to do when asked if he’d spoken to the soldiers’ families yet was say, “Not yet but I’m planning to this week.” Story over, just like that. Instead we’re on day three of coverage that now involves John Kelly and the tragic loss of his own son, CNN interviewing war widows about never having received a phone call from POTUS, and this bizarre tale of Trump promising one family $25,000 in a flourish of generosity and then, apparently, never sending the check:
“He said, ‘I’m going to write you a check out of my personal account for $25,000,’ and I was just floored,” [Chris] Baldridge said. “I could not believe he was saying that, and I wish I had it recorded because the man did say this. He said, ‘No other president has ever done something like this,’ but he said, ‘I’m going to do it.’“…
“I opened it up [the condolence letter] and read it, and I was hoping to see a check in there, to be honest,” the father said. “I know it was kind of far-fetched thinking. But I was like, ‘Damn, no check.’ Just a letter saying ‘I’m sorry.’“
Baldridge says he told Trump that he had no money and expected to receive no death benefits, which would go to his son’s widow, prompting Trump to offer him the 25 grand. That was exceptionally kind. It was also four months ago. When WaPo asked the White House today what happened, a spokesman said the check is in the mail and that it’s “disgusting” that the media is harping on it. The Daily Beast then pounced and asked when the check was sent, exactly. Did it get lost in transit over the summer? Or was it hurriedly written and mailed today, only after WaPo started asking about it? No response yet. If they did cut a check only within the past 24 hours, it wouldn’t be the first time POTUS has forgotten about charity and then remembered much later when the media reminded him about it.
Some of the Gold Star families interviewed by WaPo for the piece say that they did speak to Trump by phone and he was warm and sympathetic. Only around half of the 13 interviewed had received calls, though, and four families who hadn’t said they were “upset.” Some were … very upset:
Euvince Brooks’s son, Sgt. Roshain E. Brooks, 30, was killed Aug. 13 in Iraq. He has not heard from the White House. The president’s claim this week that he had called every military family to lose a son or daughter only upset the Brooks family more…
“I said to my daughter, ‘Can you teach me to tweet, so I can tweet at the president and tell him he’s a liar?’” he said. “You know when you hear people lying, and you want to fight? That’s the way I feel last night. He’s a damn liar.”
Letter-perfect, or else. Just to make this strange news detour into the do’s and don’ts of presidential condolences even stranger, Politico reported this afternoon that the White House had an official statement expressing sympathy for the loss of the four Americans in Niger drafted all the way back on October 5th. But it was never sent out. That was the catalyst for the media asking Trump in the first place whether he’d spoken to the families. Why didn’t the crack White House comms team just put out the statement as it would usually do?
Here’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders telling reporters that there’s no audio of Trump’s phone call with La David Johnson’s widow but that other administration officials were in on the call, including John Kelly. Kelly’s going to get a question about that the next time he’s in front of a reporter. If there’s any truth to what Johnson’s mother said about Trump being “disrespectful,” what will Kelly say?
Update: CNN says it’s confirmed that the check to Chris Baldridge wasn’t sent until today, after WaPo came knocking.
Sarah Sanders says no recording exists of Trump's conversation with soldier's widow; adds others were in the room, including Gen. John Kelly pic.twitter.com/ZfIwg3YnOZ
— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 18, 2017