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Trump under fire, Kelly steps forward to defend his comforting of Gold Star families

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made an appearance at during the press briefing Thursday to try to put to rest the controversy over the treatment of Gold Star families that has plagued President Trump in the last few days. John Yang reports on Kelly, himself a Gold Star father, and his defense of Mr. Trump.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The White House tried to resolve the controversy over President Trump’s outreach to the families of service members killed in action.

    Chief of Staff John Kelly, himself a Gold Star father, made a remarkable appearance in the White House Briefing Room.

    John Yang reports.

  • John Yang:

    With President Trump under fire, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired Marine general, stepped forward.

  • John Kelly: 

    So I just wanted to perhaps make more of a statement than an explanation, give more of an explanation.

  • John Yang:

    Mr. Trump ignited furor on Monday, claiming he did more to console the families of America’s fallen than his predecessors.

  • 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.

  • John Yang:

    The next day, the president tried to bolster his case by invoking Kelly’s son Robert, a Marine lieutenant killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

  • President Donald Trump:

    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:

    Today, Kelly gave the answer.

  • John Kelly:

    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.

  • John Yang:

    His advice to Mr. Trump?

  • John Kelly:

    My first recommendation was he not do it, because it’s not the phone call that parents, family members are looking forward to.

    In my case, hours after my son was killed, his friends were calling us from Afghanistan, telling us what a great guy he was.

    Those are the only phone calls that really matter.

  • John Yang:

    Kelly sought to explain what Mr. Trump was trying to say in his call to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Army Sergeant La David Johnson, one of four Green Berets killed two weeks ago in Niger.

  • John Kelly:

    But let me tell you what I tell them. Let me tell you what my best friend, Joe Dunford, told me, because he was my casualty officer. He said, Kel, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were, because we’re at war.

    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.

  • John Yang:

    He sharply criticized Democratic Representative Frederica Wilson, who disclosed the details of the president’s call.

  • John Kelly:

     It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation, absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred.

  • John Yang:

    He also appeared to criticize the Khans, the parents of a Muslim American soldier killed in Iraq, for criticizing Mr. Trump at last year’s Democratic Convention.

  • John Kelly:

    Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer.

    I just thought the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that that might be sacred.

  • John Yang:

    Then, as he left the Briefing Room, Kelly had a parting thought for reporters, most of whom did not serve in the military.

  • John Kelly:

    We don’t look down upon those of you that haven’t served.

    In fact, in a way, we’re a little bit sorry, because you will never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kind of things our service men and women do, not for any other reason than they love this country.

  • John Yang:

    A retired warrior and grieving father battling a political firestorm touched off by his boss.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang.

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