Trump meets with family of Vanessa Guillen and pledges to help
Posted July 30, 2020 6:25 p.m. EDT
CNN — The mother of Pfc. Vanessa Guillen on Thursday pleaded with President Donald Trump for justice for her slain daughter, who was killed at Fort Hood earlier this year, during a White House meeting.
A tearful Gloria Guillen, speaking through an interpreter in the Oval Office, asked the President to help their family investigate Guillen's death. She was bludgeoned to death with a hammer in the armory room on the Texas base where she worked and her family says she was going to file a sexual harassment report against her alleged killer, a fellow soldier at Fort Hood.
"She wants to know who's really responsible," an interpreter for Gloria Guillen told the President on Thursday. "Her daughter died. Her daughter died in service of her country at the hand of people who are in the military."
The President said he "saw this one on of the shows recently" and that it "hit me very hard." He called Vanessa Guillen a "spectacular person, respected and loved by everybody, including in the military."
"As you know, the FBI and the DOJ are now involved. We got them involved. And people at Fort Hood, where it took place, are very much involved. We didn't want to have this swept under the rug, which could happen," Trump told Vanessa Guillen's mother, father and two sisters.
Family attorney Natalie Khawam detailed the brutal aspects of the crime for the President.
"He supposedly took a hammer and killed her and, in the room, bludgeoned her to death," Khawam said. "How no one heard her screaming, how no one saw the blood, those are ... questions we still have."
"He used a machete to cut her up with his girlfriend, and he tried to burn her body. It wouldn't burn," she continued. "It reminded me of ISIS, what they do to our soldiers."
Spc. Aaron David Robinson, a 20-year-old soldier suspected in Guillen's disappearance, killed himself after police confronted him in Killeen, Texas, earlier this month. The US Army on Thursday released the names of five civilians, one of whom is a former Marine, who will review the "command climate and culture at Fort Hood," Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said in a statement.
The review is intended to determine whether that climate and culture "reflects the Army's values, including safety, respect, inclusiveness, and a commitment to diversity, and workplaces and communities free from sexual harassment."
Vanessa Guillen's family said they believe there was a cover-up in the aftermath of her death, saying there was "no transparency" between the Army and their family.
"I respect our military -- not all our people are bad -- but the way they treated Vanessa, they treated us," one of Guillen's sisters told the President. "No transparency, no respect."
"They did not respect our feelings, they did not respect the feelings of my mother and they did not respect my sister," she said.
Vanessa Guillen was afraid to report sexual harassment from Robinson and others because they were within her chain of command, family attorney Khawam explained.
"It's hard to go to the boss that's giving you problems to report him," Khawam told the President. "It's like the fox over the henhouse."
The family pushed the President not only for justice for Vanessa Guillen but also for an overall change to military culture and to how sexual harassment can be reported.
The family was in Washington to press for support for the #IAmVanessaGuillen bill, which would allow active-duty service members to file sexual harassment claims through an independent party. After the family talked to him to encourage him to support the bill, Trump responded, "You have our support, and we're working on it already, as you know, and we won't stop, and hopefully something very positive will come out in honor of your sister."
But later when they spoke about the bill, Trump said, "So we'll look into that too. We're going to look into that."
Vanessa Guillen had been willing to die for her country, her sister said, and yet "she died on base. How can this happen on a military base, where you think everything is safe, but yet the soldiers are not safe? So we need a congressional investigation because it's impossible that no one saw, no one heard anything."
Trump remained mostly stoic throughout the meeting. The President demurred when reporters asked if the case reflected the need for change in military culture or at Fort Hood in particular, instead asking the family what they thought.
At one point, he commented that officials at Fort Hood "didn't let him (Robinson) get away with it, is what I'm saying, and they probably wouldn't have" had Robinson not killed himself.
Khawam pushed back, claiming the soldier had not been arrested despite cell phone records placing him at the scene where Vanessa Guillen's body was discovered. She said base officials "turned a blind eye" to the evidence.
When Trump heard the family had not received Vanessa Guillen's remains because the investigation was still open and therefore had not been able to hold a funeral, he offered to help.
"When would you like to have the funeral?" Trump asked. The family said they wanted it as soon as possible, to which Trump responded, "As soon as possible, I agree."
"We'll make sure that happens," he said. He then offered to help cover the financial costs of the event, telling the family, "If I can help you out with the funeral I'll help you out. I'll help you out financially."
"I don't even know if you need help," Trump added, "I just think it's a horrific thing that happened."