Multiple families of military service members killed in the line duty are now getting rush-delivered letters from President Donald Trump, days after Trump claimed he had called the immediate families of all service members who had been killed since he took office in January.
The Atlantic reported Saturday that their reporters had spoken to three Gold Star families who received condolence packages from the president this week.
Timothy Eckels Sr., whose son Timothy Eckels Jr. was killed when the USS John S. McCain collided with a merchant ship in August, told the magazine he had not heard from Trump until Friday, Oct. 20. His letter from the White House was dated Oct. 18.
The families of Corey Ingram and John M. Hoagland III, two other sailors who died in the USS John McCain collision, also received rush-delivered packages from the White House this week, according to the Atlantic.
The sudden outreach appears to follow mounting criticism over Trump’s reaction to the Niger ambush that killed four U.S. soldiers.
When asked during a Monday press conference why he hadn’t publicly acknowledged the deaths in Niger, Trump pitted himself against past presidents, saying he had written the soldiers’ families personal letters, while “President Obama and other presidents ... didn’t make calls.”
On Tuesday, Trump followed up that remark by claiming he had called “virtually” all Gold Star families who had lost kin since he took office.
“To the best of my knowledge I think I’ve called every family of somebody who’s died,” Trump told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade during a radio interview. “It’s the hardest call to make ... the hardest thing for me to do is to do that.”
He later hedged his claim to Kilmeade saying, “I have called, I believe, everybody ― but certainly I’ll use the word virtually everybody.”
Hours after that Oct. 17 radio broadcast, the White House scrambled to identify and find the contact information for Gold Star families who lost a service member since January, according to an internal Defense Department email obtained by political news site Roll Call.
The email exchange, between the White House and the Pentagon, revealed that senior White House aides knew Trump’s statement about having called “virtually” all Gold Star families was not accurate ― and they needed to correct it as soon as possible.
The White House was attempting to find out which Gold Star families Trump had not yet reached out to, according to Roll Call.
Multiple news outlets have found Trump has yet to reach out to a number of families who lost loved ones since January. In a report published Wednesday, the Washington Post interviewed the families of 13 service members who were killed after Trump took office: Half of the families received phone calls from the president, the remainder had not heard from Trump.
The Associated Press reported it had reached out to the families “of all 43 people who have died in military service since Trump became president,” but only “made contact with about half of the families.”
Some families told AP they were comforted by Trump’s call, while others hadn’t heard from the president.
The family of Army Sgt. Jonathon M. Hunter, who died in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan in August, was promised a call from the president but instead heard from Vice President Mike Pence.
Brittany Harris, the widow of Army Spc. Christopher Michael Harris who also died in Afghanistan in August, said she had not heard from the president either.
AP identified at least two other Gold Star families who had wanted, but did not receive a call from the president.