President Donald Trump, once again, has been caught in numerous despicable lies, this time both to and about Gold Star families. This continues a pattern for Trump, of disrespecting other people’s military service when they are not whole-hearted supporters of Donald Trump. But over the past 48 hours or so, Trump has hit new lows in this regard. And yet he still has the gall to denounce professional football players for “not respecting the flag.”
Previously, Trump disrespected John McCain, who spent over five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, saying Trump only liked soldiers who didn’t get captured. Astonishingly, he paid no political price for this outrageous snub. Later in the campaign, Trump got into a battle of words with a Gold Star family who spoke out at the National Democratic Convention. Again, Trump paid little political price for this unseemly spat. Earlier this year, Trump reacted to the news that a U.S. Navy vessel had been in a collision that resulted in sailors’ deaths by saying: “That’s too bad.” Again, Trump paid little political price for this callous reaction.
On Monday, Trump held an impromptu press conference, and he was asked why he had not even mentioned the fact that four U.S. soldiers had been killed in Niger 12 days earlier. Not only had Trump failed to utter one word about these deaths, but when the body of one of the soldiers who died in action was returned to the United States, Trump was out on the golf course with Lindsey Graham.
Trump responded to the question by attacking not just Barack Obama, but by smearing all previous presidents for not contacting Gold Star families. Trump apparently just made this up off the top of his head, as he is wont to do. When challenged, later in the same press conference, Trump added a few qualifications, but then doubled down on the issue the next day using his chief of staff’s son as an example. Trump charged that Barack Obama didn’t call John Kelly after his son died in combat. Trump also stated that he has called relatives of all soldiers who have died in the line of duty during his presidency.
Trump was trying to give the impression that he does more than all previous presidents when it comes to consoling Gold Star families and supporting the military. This, obviously, is false, since (at best) he might hope to live up to previous presidential commitments to the military. The most obvious example might be found at the Franklin D. Roosevelt library’s web page, where it lists what F.D.R.’s sons were doing during World War II, while their father was president:
Elliott was an Army Air Corps reconnaissance pilot in the North Atlantic and Europe. He eventually achieved the rank of brigadier general. Franklin Jr. and John both entered the U.S. Navy. John rose to the rank of lieutenant commander. Franklin Jr. became a full commander and was awarded a Purple Heart and Silver Star. James chose combat duty with the Marines and received the Navy Cross and the Silver Star.
Donald Trump avoided the military draft during Vietnam because he had “bone spurs” in his heel. No other member of his family has ever served, either. But let’s get back to Trump’s performance this week.
After the initial shock, the media started digging. Members of the Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton administrations all immediately and forcefully challenged Trump’s false claims. Some flat-out called Trump a liar.
Then Representative Frederica Wilson claimed that Donald Trump disrespected one of her constituents when he did call a Gold Star family. She was listening in to the conversation on a speakerphone when it happened. Later, the dead soldier’s family confirmed Wilson’s version of the call. Of course, Trump lashed out at Wilson in response:
But in a Twitter post Wednesday, Trump claimed Wilson “totally fabricated” her account of his call to the widow. Trump went on to back up his assertion by insisting he has “proof.”
“Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!” Trump wrote.
Wilson stood her ground. Speaking on an MSNBC, she called Trump’s call “horrible” and “insensitive.”
“She [the Gold Star wife] was in tears. She was in tears. And she said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name,’” said Wilson.
“I have proof”? Is he taping his White House calls? Nobody yet seems to know what “proof” Trump was talking about.
Since there have been fewer than two dozen such deaths since Trump took office, the Washington Post attempted to contact each Gold Star family, to see whether Trump had reached out to them or not. They found five families who had not received a call from Trump, and the Associated Press added one other Gold Star family to this list. One Gold Star father responded angrily to hearing Trump make the claim that he had “called every family of somebody that’s died”:
[Euvince] Brooks said that after watching the news on Tuesday night he wanted to set up a Twitter account to try to get the president’s attention.
“I said to my daughter, ‘Can you teach me to tweet, so I can tweet at the president and tell him he’s a liar?’” he said. “You know when you hear people lying, and you want to fight? That’s the way I feel last night. He’s a damn liar.”
But that wasn’t even the strangest story the Post uncovered. Donald Trump apparently promised a personal check to a Gold Star father, and then didn’t send it until the story broke today, four months later:
President Trump, in a personal phone call to a grieving military father, offered him $25,000 and said he would direct his staff to establish an online fundraiser for the family, but neither happened, the father said.
Chris Baldridge, the father of Army Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, said that Trump called him at his home in Zebulon, N.C., a few weeks after his 22-year-old son and two fellow soldiers were gunned down by an Afghan police officer on June 10. Their phone conversation lasted about 15 minutes, Baldridge said, and centered for a time on the father’s struggle with the manner in which his son was killed ― shot by someone he was training.
“I said, ‘Me and my wife would rather our son died in trench warfare,’” Baldridge said. “I feel like he got murdered over there.”
. . .
In his call with Trump, Baldridge, a construction worker, expressed frustration with the military’s survivor benefits program. Because his ex-wife was listed as their son’s beneficiary, she was expected to receive the Pentagon’s $100,000 death gratuity ― even though “I can barely rub two nickels together,” he told Trump.
The president’s response shocked him.
“He said, ‘I’m going to write you a check out of my personal account for $25,000,’ and I was just floored,” Baldridge said. “I could not believe he was saying that, and I wish I had it recorded because the man did say this. He said, ‘No other president has ever done something like this,’ but he said, ‘I’m going to do it.’”
But then the check never actually arrived. Baldridge did get a condolence letter from Trump:
“I opened it up and read it, and I was hoping to see a check in there, to be honest,” the father said. “I know it was kind of far-fetched thinking. But I was like, ‘Damn, no check.’ Just a letter saying ‘I’m sorry.’”
Got that? Baldridge talked to the president in June. It is now the latter part of October. In all that time, Trump never wrote the check he had promised. This is part of a long pattern of Trump making sweeping promises of donations to charity, but then failing to follow through on them (uncovering this story actually won David Fahrenthold last year’s Pulitzer Prize, in fact).
Today, in reaction to the story, Trump apparently quickly (and belatedly) signed a check and sent it out. Then he had his White House press office attack the media for the story’s existence:
But in a statement Wednesday afternoon, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said: “The check has been sent. It’s disgusting that the media is taking something that should be recognized as a generous and sincere gesture, made privately by the President, and using it to advance the media’s biased agenda.”
You know what’s disgusting? Promising a poor Gold Star father $25,000 and then stiffing him for four months, until the media finds out about it. That is what is disgusting here. The media might have “recognized... a generous and sincere gesture, made privately by the president” if he had actually followed through and made the damn gesture, in other words. Talk is cheap.
So, to review what has been uncovered in the past 48 hours, ever since the media reminded Trump of a very important part of his job: Donald Trump lied about past presidents’ behavior, particularly Barack Obama’s. Trump has no explanation of why it took him almost two weeks to even mention the deaths of four U.S. soldiers, and then only when directly asked about it. Playing golf is more important than going to Dover Air Force Base to respectfully welcome the bodies of soldiers killed in action back to American soil. Trump made a Gold Star mother cry with his callousness (saying her son “knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway”) in a call a member of Congress said was “horrible” and “insensitive.” Trump lied when he said he had called “every family of someone that’s died.” One Gold Star father reacted to hearing Trump claim this by calling Trump “a damn liar.” Trump promised one Gold Star father both an online fundraiser and $25,000 from his own pocket ― neither of which happened. Trump was finally shamed into a claim that “the check was in the mail” only after this story broke in the media. The White House then astonishingly tried to blame the four-month delay between the promise and the check being signed on the media, calling them “disgusting.”
But what is actually disgusting ― and despicable, to boot ― is pretty much all the lies Donald Trump has told this week on the subject of contacts with Gold Star families. Lie after lie after lie. Just imagine the fury a Democratic president would have faced for even one of these despicable lies. So far, I haven’t heard a single prominent Republican denounce Trump for any of this. That may change, as these stories seem to still be breaking. Going after a Gold Star family who is publicly supporting your political opponent is one thing, but lying about how you’re the best president ever on Gold Star family outreach and consoling is just downright despicable. And a damn lie.
Chris Weigant blogs at ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant