President Trump surprised White House officials Tuesday morning when he invoked one of Chief of Staff John Kelly's sons, Marine 1st Lt. Robert M. Kelly, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, The Washington Post reports. Trump was speaking on Fox News Radio, responding to criticism over his untrue comments Monday that former President Barack Obama never called the families of fallen troops, a comment he walked back when challenged, saying he was "told" Obama didn't call, and "all I can do is ask my generals."
"For the most part, to the best of my knowledge, I think I've called every family of somebody that's died, and it's the hardest call to make," Trump told Fox News Radio on Tuesday. "I mean, you could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama? You could ask other people."
White House officials then anonymously told Fox News, NBC News, The Associated Press, and The Washington Post that Obama did not call Kelly, then a Marine general, upon the death of his son. Robert Kelly, 29, was married, and typically the president would call the widow, not the parents, of a fallen service member. Gen. Kelly, who has been very careful that his son's death not be politicized and reportedly recoils at any grieving family being used for political points, did attend a May 2011 breakfast Obama hosted for Gold Star families, and he sat at first lady Michelle Obama's table. Kelly, unusually and without explanation, did not attend a Trump news conference Tuesday afternoon.
About two dozen service members have died during Trump's presidency, and AP found at least a few whose widows or parents said they never got a call or letter from Trump, though they said the military and other White House officials were very warm. Trump called the families of the four soldiers killed in Niger on Tuesday, after 12 days of silence.