WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump was facing a backlash on Tuesday (Oct 17) after falsely claiming that Barack Obama and other former US leaders did not call the families of fallen soldiers.
"Stop the damn lying - you're the president," Obama's former attorney general Eric Holder said in a tweet.
Holder added that he had personally accompanied Obama to Dover air force base in Delaware, where the bodies of US troops killed in action overseas are returned, and saw him "comfort the families."
Retired general Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said both Obama and George W Bush, "cared deeply, worked tirelessly for the serving, the fallen, and their families."
Trump's remarks came on Monday when he was asked why he had not said anything so far about four US Special Forces soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger on Oct 4.
"I've written them personal letters," Trump said. "I will, at some point during the period of time, call the parents and the families - because I have done that, traditionally.
"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," he said.
Trump said calling the families was "the toughest calls I have to make" and backtracked somewhat later when pressed about how he could assert that Obama did not do so.
"I don't know if he did," he said. "I was told that he didn't often. And a lot of presidents don't; they write letters.
"I do a combination of both," he said. "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. "Other presidents did not call. They'd write letters. And some presidents didn't do anything."
'ASK GENERAL KELLY'
Trump returned to the subject in an interview on Tuesday with Fox News radio and brought up his chief of staff, retired general John Kelly, whose son, a Marine Corps lieutenant, was killed by a landmine in Afghanistan in 2010.
"To the best of my knowledge I think I've called every family of somebody that's died and it's the hardest call to make," Trump said.
"As far as other (presidents) I mean I don't know." he said "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," he said. "I write letters and I also call. I really speak for myself. I don't know what Bush did. I don't know what Obama did."
Other former Obama aides joined Holder in condemning Trump's remarks.
"This is an outrageous and disrespectful lie even by Trump standards," Ben Rhodes, who served as Obama's deputy national security adviser, said on Twitter.
Former defense secretary Leon Panetta told CNN that Obama "wrote letters, also made some calls as I recall, but more importantly, actually visited with the family."
Criticism of Trump's remarks was not confined to former Obama aides.
Gregg Popovich, coach of the five-time NBA champion San Antonio Spurs and an Air Force veteran, called Trump a "pathological liar."
"His comments today about those who have lost loved ones in times of war and his lies that previous presidents Obama and Bush never contacted their families are so beyond the pale, I almost don't have the words," Popovich told The Nation.
"This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others," Popovich said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was not calling out his predecessors.
"The president wasn't criticizing predecessors, but stating a fact," Sanders said. "When American heroes make the ultimate sacrifice, presidents pay their respects.
"Sometimes they call, sometimes they send a letter, other times they have the opportunity to meet family members in person," she said.
"This president, like his predecessors, has done each of these," she said. "Individuals claiming former presidents, such as their bosses, called each family of the fallen, are mistaken."