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Trump ignites furor with claim past presidents didn’t console military families by phone

President Trump dealt with the fallout from his assertion that President Obama didn't call the families of service members killed in action. John Yang reports on the president's response to military casualties and the latest controversy to engulf his presidency.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now: new questions surrounding the deaths of four Green Berets in the Western African nation of Niger and the role of the president as consoler in chief.

    John Yang has the story.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Sending young Americans into harm’s way can be the most serious decision a president makes. Consoling the families of the fallen has become the latest controversy to engulf President Trump.

    To bolster his claim that he does more than his predecessors, Mr. Trump today invoked the dead son of his chief of staff, retired Marine general John Kelly.

  • PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

    To the best of my knowledge, I think I have called every family of somebody that’s died. Now, as far as other representatives, I don’t know. I mean, you could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?

  • JOHN YANG:

    Kelly’s 29-year-old son, Robert, a Marine lieutenant, was killed in 2010 when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan, an episode Kelly rarely talks about publicly. Kelly and his wife did attend a 2011 Memorial Day breakfast President Obama hosted for Gold Star families.

    President Trump ignited the furor when he was asked about his public silence on four Green Berets killed two weeks ago in Niger.

  • PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

    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.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Reporters pressed him to back up the claim.

  • PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

    I don’t know. That’s what I was told. All I can do — all I can do is ask my generals.

  • JOHN YANG:

    The response from former Obama officials was swift and forceful.

  • Former Attorney General Eric Holder tweeted this photo and insisted:

    “Stop the damn lying. I went to Dover Air Force base with 44 and saw him comfort families,” a reference to one of Mr. Obama’s late-night trips to pay his respects to troops killed in Afghanistan.

    Mr. Obama and President George W. Bush often visited wounded warriors at Walter Reed and Bethesda hospitals, a practice Mr. Trump has continued. In February, the president and his daughter Ivanka went to Dover for the return of the remains of a Navy SEAL killed in Yemen, the first casualty of his administration.

    So far this year, the Pentagon says 16 Americans have been killed in action. Another 17 sailors died in accidents. In the first year of the Obama presidency, 344 were killed in action.

    During last year’s campaign, Mr. Trump publicly feuded with the Khans, the parents of a Muslim American soldier killed in Iraq, after they criticized him at the Democratic Convention.

  • Today, the Khans said:

    “President Trump’s selfish and divisive actions have undermined the dignity of the high office of the presidency.”

    The current controversy comes as questions are being raised about how and why the four soldiers died in Niger.

    Senator Jack Reed is the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

  • SEN. JACK REED, D-R.I.:

    I think the administration has to be much more clear about our role in Niger and our role in other areas in Africa and other parts of the globe.

  • JOHN YANG:

    The Pentagon is investigating the deaths. Reportedly among the questions, did commanders adequately assess the risk, and was there ready access to medical support?

    Today, President Trump called the families of the four dead Green Berets.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang.

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