President Donald Trump on Tuesday sought to deflect criticism of his widely disputed comments on fallen soldiers by invoking his chief of staff's son, a U.S. soldier killed in combat.
Trump claimed on Monday said that his predecessors, particularly President Barack Obama, didn't call the families of fallen troops, as he said he has done. His assertion was immediately debunked. A spokesman for Obama told HuffPost the former president "engaged families of the fallen and wounded warriors throughout his presidency through calls, letters [and] visits,"including to the Walter Reed military hospital in Washington.
When Fox News' Brian Kilmeade raised the matter Tuesday on his radio show, Trump responded: "You could ask [White House Chief of Staff] General [John] Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?"
Kelly's son, Robert, died in 2010 when he stepped on a land mine while serving in Afghanistan. Both father and son were Marines.
"I don't know what [President George W.] Bush did, I don't know what Obama did," Trump then admitted to Kilmeade. "I write letters and I also call. I think I've called every family of somebody that's died. I believe [Obama's] policy was somewhat different than my policy."
He chalked up the controversy over his Monday remarks to "fake news," and made a point of calling CNN "just a bunch of fakers."
Ned Price, a National Security Council official Obama, reacted angrily to Trump broaching the death of Kelly's son to continue taking swipes at Obama.
"Kelly, a man of honor & decency, should stop this inane cruelty. He saw up-close just how ― & how much ― Obama cared for the fallen's families," Price tweeted.
Kelly served as head of the U.S. military's Southern Command during much of Obama's White House tenure. An unnamed White House official told Fox News' John Roberts that the former president did not call Kelly after his son was killed. A source told CNN that Kelly attended a Gold Star families event held at the White House in 2011.
A spokesman for Obama did not return a request for comment.
This article has been updated with more details on contact between the Obama White House and Kelly.