President Donald Trump insisted without evidence on Monday that Barack Obama didn't call the families of fallen soldiers when he was president, then promptly walked the claim back when fact-checked by a reporter.
Some of Obama's former aides reacted angrily on Twitter, calling Trump's statement a lie. Obama has in the past also talked about spending "countless hours" grieving with Gold Star families.
"President Trump’s claim is wrong," a former Obama administration official told NBC News. "President Obama engaged families of the fallen and wounded warriors throughout his presidency through calls, letters, visits to Section 60 at Arlington, visits to Walter Reed, visits to Dover, and regular meetings with Gold Star Families at the White House and across the country."
U.S. & World
The issue came up at a wide-ranging news conference Monday, when Trump was asked why he hasn't discussed the Green Berets who died in an ambush in Niger in early October. Trump explained that he's written their families personal letters that have either gone out or will by Monday night, and added that he will "at some point" call their families.
"The toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens, soldiers are killed," Trump said. "It gets to a point where you make four or five of them in one day, [it] is a very, very tough day."
Trump went on to say that Obama and other prior presidents "didn't make calls," and that he likes to do it "when it's appropriate, when I'm able to do it."
When pressed by NBC News' Peter Alexander, Trump walked his statement back.
"I don't know if he did," Trump said. "I was told that he didn't often, and a lot of presidents don't."
He added that he does a combination of phone calls and letter writing.
Late Monday afternoon, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump "wasn't criticizing predecessors, but stating a fact."
"When American heroes make the ultimate sacrifice, Presidents pay their respects," she said in a prepared statement. "Sometimes they call, sometimes they send a letter, other times they have the opportunity to meet family members in person. This President, like his predecessors, has done each of these. Individuals claiming former Presidents, such as their bosses, called each family of the fallen, are mistaken.”
Alyssa Mastromonaco, a deputy chief of staff for Obama, used an expletive to call Trump's first statement a lie.
"To say President Obama (or past presidents) didn't call the family members of soldiers KIA - he's a deranged animal," Mastromonaco tweeted, using the acronym for "killed in action."
Obama foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes tweeted, "This is an outrageous and disrespectful lie even by Trump standards. Also: Obama never attacked a Gold Star family."
Rhodes was referring to the feud between Trump, then running for president, and the family of a Muslim-American Army captain killed in combat in Iraq.
“No one — no one has given more for our freedom and our security than our Gold Star families,” Obama said at the time. “Michelle and I have spent countless hours with them. We have grieved with them.”