A former ethics chief in the George W. Bush administration condemned President Donald Trump’s mishandling of calls to families of fallen soldiers, and said Trump lacks compassion because he ducked his own military service.
Richard Painter, the former chief White House ethics lawyer, told CNN on Wednesday night that Trump’s public references to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s son, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, were “atrocious.”
“He has no empathy, no understanding of the human emotions of what people go through because he never did it himself, he stayed home during Vietnam with his sore foot or whatever it was,” Painter said. “What he’s done to Gen. Kelly is atrocious.”
Trump’s medical deferment for bone spurs in his feet in the 1960s allowed him to avoid being drafted for Vietnam service. He couldn’t remember which foot was affected when asked about it in 2015. His campaign said it was both.
Trump this week invoked the name of Kelly’s son, Marines 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly, as he claimed former President Barack Obama and other previous presidents didn’t call the families of fallen troops. The assertion was immediately debunked, and journalists asked Trump why he made the claim in the first place.
When Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade raised the matter Tuesday on his radio show, Trump responded: “You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?”
Then, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) came forward to recount a conversation she overheard this week between Trump and the pregnant widow of a soldier killed Oct. 4 in Niger. Trump reportedly told the woman that her husband, Army Sgt. La David Johnson, “must’ve known what he signed up for.”
Trump claimed Wilson fabricated the story, but Johnson’s mother confirmed Wilson’s account.
“President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband,” Cowanda Jones-Johnson told The Washington Post.
Painter on CNN implored Kelly to not quit his job in Trump’s White House. The country needs him, Painter said, in order to keep “Muslim haters” out of the Trump administration.
Painter has been harshly critical of Trump’s administration. He is suing Trump for failing to disengage from his business empire while serving as president.