Trump on Memorial Day: Those who died for US ‘would be very happy’ with how country is doing

President Trump marked Memorial Day in a tweet on Monday claiming that the nation’s fallen heroes “would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today.”

“Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for Blacks and Hispanics EVER (& women in 18years), rebuilding our Military and so much more.” Trump tweeted. “Nice!”

Memorial Day is held annually to honor service members who died for the U.S.

Trump had tweeted a video in honor of the holiday earlier Monday.

The president is scheduled to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery later Monday morning.

He has often used Twitter to brag about the state of the economy under his administration. The black and Hispanic unemployment rates both reached record lows last month, according to statistics from the Department of Labor.

[The Hill]

Reality

Black unemployment rate:

Hispanic unemployment rate:

VA cuts program for homeless vets after touting Trump’s commitment

Four days after Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin held a big Washington event to tout the Trump administration’s promise to house all homeless vets, the agency did an about-face, telling advocates it was pulling resources from a major housing program.

The VA said it was essentially ending a special $460 million program that has dramatically reduced homelessness among chronically sick and vulnerable veterans. Instead, the money would go to local VA hospitals that can use it as they like, as long as they show evidence of dealing with homelessness.

Anger exploded on a Dec. 1 call that was arranged by Shulkin’s Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans to explain the move. Advocates for veterans, state officials and even officials from HUD, which co-sponsors the program, attacked the decision, according to five people who were on the call.

“I don’t understand why you are pulling the rug out,” Elisha Harig-Blaine, a National League of Cities housing official who was on the call, said in an interview afterward. “You’re putting at risk the lives of men and women who’ve served this country.”

“The VA is taking its foot off the pedal,” said Leon Winston, an executive at Swords to Plowshares, which helps homeless vets in San Francisco, where he said the VA decision is already having an impact. HUD recently put up 100 housing vouchers for veterans in the program, but the local VA hospital said it could only provide support for 50.

The agency’s move came as HUD on Wednesday released its annual survey showing a 1.5 percent increase in veteran homelessness over 2016 — the first rise since 2010. Most of the jump occurred in Los Angeles, where housing costs are skyrocketing.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who sits on a veterans’ affairs subcommittee, called the VA decision “a new low” for the Trump administration that was “especially callous and perplexing” in view of the latest data on homelessness.

In a statement late Wednesday, Shulkin insisted that overall funding for veteran homelessness was not being cut, and seemed to suggest he might reverse the decision. He promised to get input from local VA leaders and others “on how best to target our funding to the geographical areas that need it most.”

HUD data show there were nearly 40,000 homeless veterans in 2016, and even those with housing still need assistance. The program has reduced the number of displaced servicemembers, serving 138,000 since 2010 and cut the number without housing on a given day by almost half. More than half the veterans housed are chronically ill, mentally ill or have substance abuse problems.

[Politico]

Trump Blames Generals for Niger Ambush That Got Four U.S. Soldiers Killed

Did President Donald Trump, the commander-in-chief, just blame U.S. generals for the deadly October 4 ambush in Niger?

When asked by reporters on Wednesday if he authorized the mission in Niger that left four U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers dead, Trump said, “No, I didn’t, not specifically.” The generals have “decision-making ability,” he added.

“I have generals that are great generals,” he said during an impromptu press conference outside of the White House before heading off to Dallas. “These are great fighters; these are warriors. I gave them authority to do what’s right so that we win. That’s the authority they have. I want to win. And we’re going to win.”

Trump referred to the leaders as “my generals” and “my military.” He’s used such phrasing before, which has angered the military community.

“When it comes to the military, the military belongs to the country. Our defense system belongs to the country. And it’s not the president’s military, it’s the military of the United States of America,” Leon Panetta, a former defense secretary and director of the CIA, said in April.

This is also not the first time Trump has seemingly placed responsibility for a deadly military incident on the generals. After a botched raid in Yemen resulted in the death of U.S. Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens in late January, Trump said, “My generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades I believe. And they lost Ryan.”

During his presidential campaign, Trump said, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.” His actions since becoming president, however, suggest Trump doesn’t believe this at all.

Trump has delegated far more autonomy to the Pentagon in conducting military operations than was offered by his predecessor, Barack Obama. He’s also filled his cabinet with military men. Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis are both retired Marine generals.

“What I do is I authorize my military…. We have given them total authorization, and that’s what they’re doing,” Trump said in April. The president argued this is why the military has been “so successful” under his watch compared to “what has happened over the last eight years.”

The military seems to appreciate this newfound independence under Trump.

“It has freed us up a bit to prosecute the war in a more aggressive manner, I think,” said Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of the U.S.-led coalition forces fighting the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria from August 2016 to September 2017, during an interview with Time over the summer.

But some have argued that the lack of restrictions has only made the military more trigger-happy, which could help explain the extreme rise in civilian deaths from U.S. air strikes under Trump. The rules the president has rolled back were designed to prevent civilian casualties.

Does the military’s increased autonomy also place troops in greater danger? This is less clear. But some argue that Trump has skirted portions of his responsibility as commander-in-chief, and that on more than one occasion this has allowed him to point to his generals when things have gotten messy.

Meanwhile, many questions remain about what exactly happened in Niger on October 4, and an investigation is ongoing.

[Newsweek]

Media

Trump spars with widow of slain soldier about condolence call

Myeshia Johnson, the widow of a soldier killed earlier this month in Niger, said Monday that a condolence call from President Donald Trump “made me cry even worse,” prompting Trump to immediately push back against part of her emotional account via Twitter.

“The president said that he knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyways and I was — it made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said it. He couldn’t remember my husband’s name. The only way he remembered my husband’s name was because he told me he had my husband’s report in front of him and that’s when he actually said ‘La David,’” Johnson told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband’s name and that’s what hurt me the most because if my husband is out here fighting for our country, and he risks his life for our country, why can’t you remember his name? And that’s what made me upset and cry even more because my husband was an awesome soldier.”

An hour after Johnson’s ABC interview aired, Trump responded on Twitter to rebut a portion of her account. “I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!” Trump claimed in his online post.

The interview and Trump’s online response to it drags the controversy surrounding the president’s condolence call to Johnson into its second week, prolonging a news cycle that has resurfaced questions about the president’s treatment of Gold Star families. The issue of Trump’s conversation with Johnson has mushroomed just as the White House has sought to focus attention on the president’s proposed tax cuts and reforms and has brought back memories of Trump’s feud with the Gold Star Khan family, who railed against the president at last summer’s Democratic National Convention.

The phone call between Johnson and the president became a point of contention last week when Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), a family friend who was traveling with the widow when she took Trump’s call on speakerphone, told reporters that the president had struggled to remember Army Sgt. La David Johnson’s name and said the slain soldier knew what he signed up for when he enlisted.

As the week wore on, the White House lashed out at Wilson, accusing the hat-wearing congresswoman of being “all hat, no cattle” and suggesting that she had sought to politicize the soldier’s death. Trump himself, in a post to Twitter, wrote that Wilson had “totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!”

The Trump administration’s most powerful defense came last Thursday from White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, who shared with reporters what happens when a service member dies and recalled details from the death of his own son, a Marine who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. Kelly shared the words of condolence that his friend, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, had offered him on his son’s death — that “he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed” — a similar sentiment to what Trump sought to express on his call with Johnson.

Kelly, in his briefing room remarks, also lashed out at Wilson, referring to her as an “empty barrel” as he recalled the 2015 dedication of an FBI office in Miami, where he said the Florida lawmaker inappropriately boasted that she had been instrumental in securing the funding for the facility. But the chief of staff’s criticism was quickly discredited: Wilson had not yet been elected to Congress when the money for the FBI building was appropriated, and video of her remarks from the ceremony shows her celebrating the bipartisan legislation she spearheaded to name the new FBI building after two agents killed in a 1986 firefight, not to secure funding for the building.

The White House stood behind Kelly’s statement and Sanders told reporters Friday that “If you want to go after Gen. Kelly, that’s up to you. But I think that if you want to get into a debate with the four-star Marine general, I think that’s something highly inappropriate.”

Despite the White House’s insistence that Wilson had mischaracterized and fabricated the tenor of Trump’s call, Myeshia Johnson’s account of the conversation aligned with the lawmaker’s account.

“Whatever Ms. Wilson said was not fabricated. What she said was 100 percent correct,” she said, explaining that six people, including Wilson, had heard the call as the family made its way to meet the slain soldier’s remains at Dover Air Force Base. “The phone was on speakerphone. Why would we fabricate something like that?”

The widow said she was left “very, very upset and hurt, very” by the president’s call.

She also said that many of her questions surrounding her husband’s death have not yet been answered by the military and that she has not been allowed to view her husband’s body. She said she has not been told how he was killed or why it took two days from the time La David Johnson’s unit was attacked for the military to recover his body.

“Why couldn’t I see my husband? Every time I asked to see my husband, they wouldn’t let me,” she said. “I need to see him so I will know that that is my husband. I don’t know nothing. They won’t show me a finger, a hand. I know my husband’s body from head to toe, and they won’t let me see anything. I don’t know what’s in that box. It could be empty for all I know, but I need — I need to see my husband.”

[Politico]

Leaked Pentagon Email Undermines Trump’s Claim He Contacted Nearly All Gold Star Families

During President Donald Trump’s run of conservative talk radio interviews last week, the president claimed at that time that he had been in contact with nearly every family that had lost a military servicemember under his presidency. This statement came on the heels of Trump’s false claim that former President Barack Obama and other previous presidents did not call Gold Star families.

In an exclusive report last night, Roll Call obtained an email exchange involving the Pentagon that showed that the White House was aware that Trump had not contacted all of those families at that time and, in fact, the administration knew that it didn’t even have an updated list of all the soldiers who have lost their life this year.

The exchange between the White House and the Defense secretary’s office occurred about 5 p.m. on Oct. 17. The White House asked the Pentagon for information about surviving family members of all servicemembers killed after Trump’s inauguration so that the president could be sure to contact all of them.Capt. Hallock Mohler, the executive secretary to Defense Secretary James Mattis, provided the White House with information in the 5 p.m. email about how each servicemember had died and the identity of his or her survivors, including phone numbers.The email’s subject line was, “Condolence Letters Since 20 January 2017.”

In his interview earlier that day, the president told Fox News Radio that he believed he had called “everybody” but that he would “use the word virtually everybody” to describe his calls to Gold Star families.

Following Trump’s boast, the Associated Press reached out to 20 families and discovered that half of them had yet to hear from the president. Also, it was unclear of those families that had heard from Trump if those contacts were made this past week after the controversy blew up over the contacting of Gold Star families.

During an appearance at a White House press briefing earlier this week, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly indicated that Trump first asked for his advice on contacting the family members of fallen soldiers a few days ago, after Trump had been confronted on his 12-day silence on the deadly Niger ambush. Meanwhile, at another press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would only state that Trump had contacted families he had been presented information on.

[Mediaite]

Trump offered a grieving military father $25,000 in a call, but didn’t follow through

President Trump, in a personal phone call to a grieving military father, offered him $25,000 and said he would direct his staff to establish an online fundraiser for the family, but neither happened, the father said.

Chris Baldridge, the father of Army Cpl. Dillon Baldridge, told The Washington Post that Trump called him at his home in Zebulon, N.C., a few weeks after his 22-year-old son and two fellow soldiers were gunned down by an Afghan police officer in a suspected insider attack June 10. Their phone conversation lasted about 15 minutes, Baldridge said, and centered for a time on the father’s struggle with the manner in which his son was killed.

“I said, ‘Me and my wife would rather our son died in trench warfare,’ ” Baldridge said. “I feel like he got murdered over there.”

Trump’s offer of $25,000 adds another dimension to the president’s relations with Gold Star families, an honorific given to those whose loved ones die while serving in support of the nation’s wars. The disclosure follows questions about how often the president has called or written to grieving military families.

The Washington Post contacted the White House about Baldridge’s account on Wednesday morning. Officials declined to discuss the events in detail.

But in a statement Wednesday afternoon, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said: “The check has been sent. It’s disgusting that the media is taking something that should be recognized as a generous and sincere gesture, made privately by the President, and using it to advance the media’s biased agenda.”

Trump said this week that he has “called every family of somebody that’s died, and it’s the hardest call to make.” At least 20 Americans have been killed in action since he became commander in chief in January. The Washington Post interviewed the families of 13 and found that his interactions with them vary. About half had received phone calls, they said. The others said they had not heard from the president.

In his call with Trump, Baldridge, a construction worker, expressed frustration with the military’s survivor benefits program. Because his ex-wife was listed as their son’s beneficiary, she was expected to receive the Pentagon’s $100,000 death gratuity — even though “I can barely rub two nickels together,” he told Trump.

The president’s response shocked him.

“He said, ‘I’m going to write you a check out of my personal account for $25,000,’ and I was just floored,” Baldridge said. “I could not believe he was saying that, and I wish I had it recorded because the man did say this. He said, ‘No other president has ever done something like this,’ but he said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ ”

The president has faced worsening backlash since details emerged of his phone call Tuesday with the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed Oct. 4 alongside three other U.S. soldiers in Niger. After not addressing the incident for 12 days, Trump on Monday falsely claimed that previous presidents never or rarely called the families of fallen service members. In fact, they did so regularly.

[Washington Post]

Trump to widow of Sgt. La David Johnson: ‘He knew what he signed up for’

President Donald Trump told U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson‘s widow Tuesday that “he knew what he signed up for … but when it happens, it hurts anyway,” when he died serving in northwestern Africa, according to U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Florida.

“Yeah, he said that,” Wilson said. “So insensitive. He should have not have said that. He shouldn’t have said it.”

The president called about 4:45 p.m. and spoke to Johnson’s pregnant widow, Myeshia Johnson, for about five minutes. She is a mother to Johnson’s surviving 2-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter. The conversation happened before Johnson’s remains arrived at Miami International Airport on a commercial Delta Airlines flight.

“The president’s conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private,” a top advisor later told Local 10 News.

Wilson watched as the widow, who is expecting their third baby in January, leaned over the U.S. flag that was draping Johnson’s casket. Her pregnant belly was shaking against the casket as she sobbed uncontrollably. Their daughter stood next to her stoically. Their toddler waited in the arms of a relative.

There was silence.

Local politicians, police officers and firefighters lined up to honor Johnson for his service and for the efforts and discipline that got the former Walmart employee to defy all odds and become a 25-year-old member of the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Johnson, who participated in a mentorship program Wilson founded in 1993, died during a mission fighting alongside Green Berets. Islamic militants ambushed them on Oct. 4 with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. The team reportedly didn’t have overhead armed air cover and was in unarmored pickup trucks. Reuters reported the lack of planning upset the French.

Trump didn’t discuss any of the details of the ambush or say that the Pentagon was conducting an investigation. Instead, he focused on questions about whether or not he had offered his condolences to the families of the fallen.

“I will, at some point, during the period of time, call the parents and the families, because I have done that, traditionally,” Trump said during a news conference last week.

Wilson criticized Trump for failing to acknowledge Johnson’s death after he was left behind during the evacuation. It took nearly two days to find his body in the Republic of Niger’s desert. Johnson’s body made it to the U.S. on Oct. 7 when Trump was playing golf with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Amid the controversy, Trump later said President Barack Obama and other presidents didn’t make calls to the relatives of all fallen servicemen and women. Aides for both President George W. Bush’s and Obama reacted on Twitter and in The Huffington Post, saying the president misspoke.

Trump later backpedaled the claim during an interview with NBC’s Peter Alexander.

“President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. That’s what I was told. All I can do, all I can do is ask my generals. Other presidents did not call. They’d write letters. And some presidents didn’t do anything,” Trump said. “But I like the combination of, I like, when I can, the combination of a call and also a letter.”

The Atlantic’s David A. Graham believes Trump used the controversy to distract reporters. Despite the criticism, Trump continued the discussion on Fox News Radio when he raised doubt about whether or not Obama called his chief of staff, John Kelly, when Kelly’s son died.

Graham said it was Trump’s strategy to distract reporters from the important questions about the deadly ambush in Africa.

“The broader question, of what the soldiers who were killed were doing and what went wrong, remains unaddressed by the president, and Trump’s jab at other presidents may, unfortunately, help to keep it that way,” Graham wrote.

After an emotional procession from Miami-Dade County to Broward County, Johnson’s remains were at a funeral home in Hollywood. There will be a public viewing from 4 to 8 p.m.  Friday and a funeral service from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, at the Christ The Rock Church at 11000 Stirling Road in Cooper City. The internment will be at the Hollywood Memorial Gardens, at 3001 N. 72 St.

According to officials with the Department of Defense, the other three victims of the attack were Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia.

[ABC]

Reality

Trump later tweeted Rep. Wilson fabricated the statement, but once it was confirmed by Johnson’s own mother, the White House changed its story and now say Trump was simply “misunderstood.”

Trump: Ask Gen. Kelly If Obama Called When His Son Died

President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his false claim that his predecessor didn’t call the families of soldiers killed in action by alluding to former Gen. John Kelly’s son, a Marine who died in Afghanistan.

“You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?” Trump said in a radio interview with Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade.

Kelly, who came on as Trump’s chief of staff in July, does not often speak about the son he lost in 2010. 1st Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, 29, was killed in combat in Afghanistan after stepping on a landmine.

“I don’t know what Obama’s policy was. I write letters and I also call,” Trump said, adding he has called “virtually everybody” during his past nine months as commander in chief.

Trump’s comments Tuesday come a day after he falsely claimed that President Barack Obama did not call the families of soldiers killed in action after being asked why he had not yet addressed the deaths of American troops killed in Niger earlier this month.

When pressed by NBC News on how he could make that claim, Trump said he was told that Obama “didn’t often” call families of fallen soldiers.

“President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. That’s what I was told. All I can do — all I can do is ask my generals,” he said.

According to a 2011 profile in The Boston Globe, Kelly has avoided speaking publicly about his son so as not to draw attention.

“We are not inclined to make ourselves out to be any different, just because I’m a lieutenant general in the Marines,” Kelly said then. “We are just one family. It’s not worse for us; it’s not easier for us.”

A White House official told NBC News on Tuesday that Obama did not call Kelly after the death of his son. But a person familiar with the breakfast for Gold Star Families at the White House on May 30, 2011, told NBC News that Kelly and his wife attended the private event and were seated at first lady Michelle Obama’s table.

A former senior Obama administration official disputed Trump’s initial claim on Monday that Obama didn’t call Gold Star families, calling it “wrong.”

“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,” the ex-official told NBC.

Trump said Tuesday that he had to allow a little time to pass but he “will be calling, have called, and will be calling the parents and loved ones, wives of the soldiers that recently were killed.”

The White House said later that the president was scheduled to call the families of the four soldiers killed in Niger on Tuesday.

[NBC News]

Trump falsely claims Obama, other past presidents didn’t call families of fallen soldiers

President Trump on Monday claimed former President Obama and other past presidents didn’t call the families of fallen soldiers.

Trump made the remark after being asked about the four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger last week.

The president said he planned to call the parents and families of those who were killed, something he said he has done “traditionally.”

“The toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens – soldiers are killed,” Trump said.

“It’s a very difficult thing. Now it gets to a point where you make four or five of them in one day, it’s a very, very tough day. For me that’s by far the toughest,” he said.

“So the traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it.”

Trump’s remarks were immediately criticized online, as Obama and other past presidents did make calls to the families of fallen soldiers.

Obama and former President George W. Bush have both described the difficultly in making those calls.

About 15 minutes later, as the news conference continued, Trump was pressed on his claim and said that he was “told” Obama didn’t often call the families of slain soldiers.

“And a lot of presidents don’t, they write letters. … I do a combination of both. Sometimes, it’s a very difficult thing to do, but I do a combination of both. President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn’t, I don’t know, that’s what I was told,” Trump said.

Trump said again that other presidents did not call.

“And some presidents didn’t do anything,” he said. “I like, when I can, the combination of a call and also a letter.”

[The Hill]

Media

Watch on CNN

Reality

A quick search of news archives reveals multiple times Obama met with military family members in which he offered thanks and condolences for their sacrifice.

We’ll even defend George W. Bush here too:

Later in the press conference, Trump was asked what evidence he had that Obama never called the families of fallen soldiers, and he said that it was simply something he had heard about and could not recall from who.

Trump Signs Order For Military to Discriminate Against Transgender Recruits

President Donald Trump on Friday signed a directive reinstating a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military, although it defers to the Pentagon on whether to remove those now in uniform and leaves open the door for it to seek changes.

Trump’s directive, issued to the Defense and Homeland Security Departments, reinstates a prohibition of transgender service members lifted last year, putting a formal stamp on a politically divisive change in military personnel policy that Trump first announced last month.

It also bars funding to pay for gender-reassignment surgeries except when “necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex.”

The guidance gives Defense Secretary Jim Mattis until Feb. 21, 2018, to submit a plan for implementing the new policy. It also leaves decision of whether to remove current troops to Mattis.

The White House memo also leaves the door open for further changes in the transgender policy, stating that Mattis may advise him on changes.

“The Secretary of Defense, after consulting with the Secretary of Homeland Security, may advise me at any time, in writing, that a change to this policy is warranted,” the memo states.

Then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced in June 2016 the ban on transgender troops would be lifted. Mattis, however, delayed implementation of the policy for new recruits by six months to allow for further study.

Trump first revealed he would reverse the policy in a series of tweets on July 26, announcing transgender individuals would not be allowed “to serve in any capacity” in the military.

Trump’s announcement last month on Twitter that he planned to reverse the Obama policy was hailed by some conservatives who argue that the military has become a social experiment.

But it also drew widespread condemnation from Democrats and some Republicans, who argue the policy shift is discriminatory and would disrupt military readiness.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White Friday confirmed in a statement that the department had received the guidance but provided no further details.

“The Department of Defense has received formal guidance from the White House in reference to transgender personnel serving in the military,” White said. “More information will be forth coming.”

Experts predict that implementation of the ban will prove a lethal thicket and predict a series of court challenges that will likely delay the policy.

[Politico]

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