Transcript for Trump defends claim about past presidents' actions with fallen troops
The president standing fm tonight saying previous presidents did not call the families of the fallen. And the president today brought up his own chief of staff, general John Kelly, whose son dined in Afghanistan. General Kelly has indicated to the past in reporters that he did not want to talk publicly about the death of his son. Here's ABC's senior white house correspondent Cecilia Vega tonight. Reporter: Even in the face of mounting criticism, president trump today defended his claim that other presidents, including president Obama, did not personally call the grieving families of fallen soldiers. The controversy ignited when president trump finally broke his silence over the deaths of four American special ops soldiers killed in Niger. He was asked why, nearly two weeks after the deadly siege, he had yet to mention them or their families. I've written personal letters. They've been sent or they're going out tonight, but they were written during the weekend. Reporter: But then, he said this -- The traditional way 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. Reporter: He tried to walk it back -- President Obama I think probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn't. I don't know. That's what I was told. All I can do is ask my generals. Reporter: But the backlash was immediate. President Obama's attorney general tweeted -- "Stop the damn lying, you're the president." An aide to president George W. Bush said he "Called and/or met privately with hundreds if not thousands" of grieving families. And some gold star families, going public with their outrage, too. This mom tweet, ""Trump does not speak for me and did not speak for my son. He is an embarrassment." White house press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted "The president wasn't criticizing predecessors, but stating a fact." But hours later, president trump once again pointed the finger directly at president Obama, implying he didn't call current white house chief of staff John Kelly in 2010, when Kelly's son was killed in Afghanistan. I mean, you can ask general Kelly, did he get a call from Obama? You could ask other people. Reporter: Kelly has repeatedly made it clear to reporters he does not want to talk about his son's death. And he would not go on the record today. But the white house tells us he never got a call from president Obama. Obama aides do not dispute that. But they do say Kelly did attend a white house breakfast for gold star families, where he sat at the first lady's table. And Cecilia Vega with us live tonight from the white house. And Cecilia, you point out it's been nearly two weeks since that deadly incident in Niger. We hadn't heard from the president until yesterday on this and now you're learning tonight that president trump has now called the families of those special ops soldiers? Reporter: David, the calls happened today. The president expressed his condolences. He told the families their sons' service would not be forgotten. The letters, David, we're told by the white house, they went out today.
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