WASHINGTON — There is no bottom to how low President Donald Trump can go.
It’s not just that Trump on Tuesday kept the latest fight he picked alive — about whether former President Barack Obama and other presidents called or contacted the families of soldiers killed in combat.
It’s how Trump did it, by dragging his chief of staff, John Kelly, into the mess with the mention in a Tuesday morning radio interview of the 2010 death of Kelly’s son. Marine 2nd Lt. Col. Robert Kelly, was killed in Afghanistan. Trump raised the question of whether Obama called Kelly afterward.
Afterward, a White House official told several news outlets on Tuesday that Kelly, a Marine general at the time, did not receive a call from Obama.
Kelly is well-known for being very private about the death of his son, but Trump was willing to let Kelly’s son’s death become politicized.
What Obama did: Obama invited Kelly and his wife to a White House breakfast honoring Gold Star families on May 30, 2011, about six months after their son’s death. A former Obama White House staffer said Kelly and his wife were seated with then-first lady Michelle Obama.
Back to the bigger point here. What decent person is so insensitive to use the tragic death of a child to score political points?
That’s Trump, the commander-in-chief. He exploited the death of a soldier — a son of his top staffer no less — to take another swipe at Obama.
And this is not the first time for Trump on this front. During the presidential campaign, Trump attacked a Hillary Clinton supporter, Khizr Khan, whose son, Humayun, an Army captain, was killed in Iraq in 2004.
How this started: On Monday at a press conference, Trump claimed, falsely, that Obama and other presidents ignored the families of troops killed in action — and he is doing a better job in making family calls. Trump slightly backtracked after a reporter challenged his facts.
This got rolling after another reporter asked “Why haven’t we heard anything from you so far about the soldiers that were killed in Niger?”
Earlier this month, around Oct. 4, four Green Berets were killed during an ambush: Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright and Sgt. La David T. Johnson.
At the time the question was asked, on Monday afternoon, letters Trump claimed he wrote had not been sent — this by his account — and he had not yet called the soldiers’ families, even though almost two weeks had passed.
A very critical reader of my column about the Monday uproar emailed me, blaming the reporter who “asked this dastardly question in the first place. Just another left “get Trump” trap. . . . Make no mistake, I am offended by Trump’s response as well.”
The reporter’s question was no trap. Sometimes presidents make private calls. It was a reasonable try to elicit some news.
Trump, consumed with tearing Obama down — as part of pumping himself up — did not have to invoke his predecessor and other presidents. If he had simply said he was going to be calling and sending letters — but wanted to wait a bit of time out of respect for the grieving families — this would not have developed into a flap.
Trump had no shame in using Kelly to drive this story into Day 2.
On Tuesday morning, in an interview with Brian Kilmeade, the Fox host — who also has a radio show — Kilmeade asked Trump if he wanted to “clarify” anything.
“Nothing to clarify,” said Trump. . . . I mean, you could ask General Kelly did he get a call from Obama. You could ask other people, I don’t know what Obama’s policy was. I write letters and I also call.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Trump finally called the four families whose Green Beret sons were killed in action in Niger to offer his condolences.