Political News

White House blames bureaucracy for expedited condolence letters

Posted October 23, 2017 5:14 p.m. EDT

— The Trump administration did expedite some condolence letters to families of fallen soldiers after President Donald Trump said he had contacted every family of a fallen soldier, a White House official said Monday, blaming the lag on bureaucratic issues that delayed letters being sent out to families.

The admission came after a series of news reports said the White House was scrambling to back up Trump's claim that he had contacted "every family of someone who's died" during his presidency. Roll Call first reported last week that the White House had rushed to find a list of contact information for each fallen soldier's family. The Atlantic reported that a series of families received expedited letters last week, months after their family member had been killed.

The White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive subject, said the West Wing did attempt to expedite condolence letters to families of fallen soldiers after the President's remarks in the Rose Garden last week after a discovery was made that there were "bureaucratic" reasons for why some of the letters had not gone out.

In most of the cases, the official said, letters and contacts were delayed because the service member killed in action had been involved in a "multiple casualties" incident.

"We looked under the hood" and found this bureaucratic red tape, the official added. In response to this discovery, the official concluded, the White House directed that the condolence letters be sent out immediately.

The Atlantic reported that at least four families, including three whose sons were killed in the August crash of the USS John S. McCain, received expedited letters from Trump in the last few days.

Timothy Eckels Sr., whose son Timothy Eckels Jr. was killed on the McCain, called the letter from Trump "reactionary."

"Honestly, I feel the letter is reactionary to the media storm brewing over how these things have been handled," Eckels told the magazine. "I've received letters from McCain, Mattis and countless other officials before his. I wasn't sure if the fact that the accident that caused Timothy's death has still yet to officially have the cause determined played into the timing of our President's response."

The White House official said it is not uncommon that letters from the White House are sent using express mail.

The public back-and-forth over what each president did to console the families of fallen soldiers has dominated the White House's focus for days after Trump falsely knocked President Barack Obama, his predecessor, for his response to fallen soldiers' families.

"If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls, a lot of them didn't make calls," he aid. "I like to call when it's appropriate, when I think I'm able to do it. They have made the ultimate sacrifice."

Trump waited 12 days to comment directly on the death of four Americans in Niger, despite opining on Twitter and in public about a host of other issues. When pressed on why he didn't weigh in sooner, Trump looked to defend himself by slamming his predecessor.

In an interview with Fox News Radio, Trump suggested reporters ask John Kelly, his chief of staff and a retired Marine four-star general, whether Obama called when his son was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010.

Trump, after being pressed by reporters, did call the families of the four fallen soldiers, setting off another controversy over how he handled the call with Myeisha Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson.

Johnson's family and friends, including most recently Myeisha in an interview with ABC on Monday morning, accused the president of being insensitive during the call and failing to remember Johnson's name.

Trump fired back on Monday morning, questioning Johnson's account of the call.

"I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation," he tweeted.

The ugly back-and-forth has left the White House reeling and looking to move past the heated rhetoric from all sides, including from the Oval Office.