U.S. President Donald Trump said recently he reaches out to all families of those who died in military service, but some relatives of the fallen do not support his claim.
Forty-three service members have been killed since Trump became president in January, according to the Associated Press. Of those families who agreed to speak, about nine said they had contact with the president while nine others said they had not.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Trump promised Chris Baldridge of Zebulon, North Carolina, $25,000 of his own money when they spoke by phone last summer about the death of his son, Army Sergeant Dillon Baldridge, who was killed in Afghanistan.
The check never arrived, but when The Post contacted the White House about the conversation with Baldridge, officials declined to discuss details. The White House, however, issued a statement later saying "the check has been sent."
Other family members anticipated calls from Trump that were never made. The family of Army Sergeant Jonathon Hunter, who was killed in an August suicide bombing in Afghanistan, was told to expect a call from Trump. Mark Hunter, the father, said the call never came.
"Disappointed that he at least didn't call and thank me for my son and our ultimate sacrifice." Hunter added he wanted to hear "from him, not the vice president."
The Hunter family spoke instead with Vice President Mike Pence, who grew up in the same city of Columbus, Indiana, at a ceremony honoring Sergeant Hunter at an air force base in Delaware. Several other families of fallen service members also spoke with Pence at the ceremony.
Trump’s handling of the deaths of service members was raised at a White House news conference Monday, when he was pressed about why he had not commented on the deaths of Sergeant La David Johnson and three other U.S. Special Forces soldiers killed twelve days earlier near the Niger-Mali border.
Trump responded by claiming, "if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls," adding he was told as such by generals serving in his administration.
That claim sparked outrage and sharp rebukes from former members of Obama’s staff.
Recounting phone call
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson claimed Tuesday that Trump made insensitive comments to the widow of Sergeant Johnson. Wilson, who represents the Florida district where Johnson’s family lives, said she was listening in on the call Trump made to widow Myeshia Johnson. Trump said he has proof Wilson “fabricated” the story. Wilson said she has proof Trump told the widow her husband “knew what he signed up for.”
La David Johnson's mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told The Washington Post she was also in the car, and the president “did disrespect my son and my daughter, and also me and my husband."
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused Wilson of mischaracterizing the phone call for political purposes.
Sanders refused to discuss details of the president’s conversation with Myeshia Johnson, but said several White House staffers, including Chief of Staff John Kelly, listened in on the call.
“The president’s call as recounted by multiple people in the room believe that the president was completely respectful, very sympathetic and expressed the condolences of himself and the rest of the country, and thanked the family for their service, commended them for having an American hero in their family and I don’t know how you could take that any other way,” Sanders said.