The Slatest

Trump Rushes Condolence Letters to Families of Slain Sailors Amid Controversy

President Donald Trump speaks to the media during a meeting with Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico in the Oval Office at the White House on October 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

President Trump sent condolence letters last week to at least three families of sailors who died aboard the USS John S. McCain in August. The relatives of Timothy Eckels Jr., John Hoagland and Corey Ingram all said they received the letters last week with one even telling the Atlantic the UPS package was dated October 18. That was a day after Trump claimed during a Fox News Radio interview that he had gotten in touch with “virtually” all of the families who had lost a member of the military service since he became president.

Now we know that the president’s statement on Fox News Radio caused the White House to scramble and ask the Pentagon for the names and contact information of the family members of service members who died while on duty. Now it seems that with that list in hand, the White House then rushed out condolence letters to people the president had not reached out to before.

“Honestly, I feel the letter is reactionary to the media storm brewing over how these things have been handled,” Timothy Eckels Sr., whose son Timothy Eckels Jr. was killed in the USS John S. McCain collision told the Atlantic. “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.” Eckels, however, had no complaints about the letter itself, saying it “seemed genuine” and was “respectful.”

After Trump claimed he had contacted “virtually” all families of fallen military service members, several news outlets quickly discovered that was not the case. The Associated Press reached out to the families of all 43 people who died in military service, and managed to make contact without about half of them. Of those who agreed to answer the question, nine said they had heard from the president, and nine said they had not. In at least one case, one family was told to expect a call from Trump but got one from Vice President Mike Pence instead.