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How Trump’s feud over fallen soldiers spiraled out of control

Here's how we got here.

by Rex Santus and Gabrielle Bluestone
Oct 21 2017, 9:45am

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After Trump failed to call the families of four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger, he ignited a scandal by claiming, in his defense, that Barack Obama hadn’t offered condolences in the past either. While the president appeared to be covering for himself, the situation soon became a huge controversy.

Trump ended up feuding with a Democratic congresswoman who listened in on a conversation he eventually had with one of the soldiers’ widows.

Here’s how we got here:

Calling Obama out Day 270 — Oct. 17

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

After four U.S. soldiers were killed in Niger on Oct. 4, Trump remained silent on their deaths for nearly two weeks before addressing the situation. When asked about his silence on Tuesday, the president appeared to make up an excuse on the spot: He would call the families of the fallen soldiers soon, but hey, Obama never made those calls either. One small problem: He did.

At least nine families of fallen service members came out with statements saying they haven’t heard from Trump.

In the process, Trump threw his chief of staff, John Kelly, under the bus. Kelly’s son was killed in action. Despite his preference that the death not be politicized, Trump implied that Obama had never spoken to Kelly about it. Obama, however, did host Kelly at a breakfast for Gold Star families about six months after his son died.

There are no official rules for presidents when service members are killed in action. But the general consensus appears to be about response time, which should rarely be longer than a week. Trump waited nearly two weeks to address the deaths of the four Americans.

The check’s in the mail Day 271 — Oct. 18

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in support of Sen. Luther Strange, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Huntsville, Ala.(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The father of one of the soldier’s said Trump had called him and offered $25,000 and promised to establish an online fundraiser to assist the grieving family. Trump fulfilled neither guarantee, the Washington Post reported. After the story broke, however, Trump sent the $25,000 check later that day.

That wasn’t Trump’s only gaffe of the day. Florida Democrat Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida and Cowanda Jones-Johnson, whose son Sgt. La David T. Johnson died in Niger, said they both listened in on Trump’s phone conversation with Johnson’s widow, Myeshia. Trump told Myeshia that her husband “knew what he signed up for” and he only referred to Sgt. Johnson as “your guy” during the conversation, according to Jones-Johnson and Wilson, a family friend.

The White House initially responded by accusing Wilson of fabricating the conversation for political gain. Wilson stood by her account of the conversation and called Trump out for referring to Myeshia as “the wife” or “the woman” instead of using her name.

The battle of the big hatsDay 272 — Oct. 19

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., talks to reporters, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Unwilling to let the controversy go, Trump called Wilson “whacky” in a late night tweet.

Trump ally Sheriff David Clarke, known for his enormous western hats, came to the president’s defense by mocking Wilson’s red hat.

Some veterans say that Trump’s message to Jones wasn’t offensive. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly came to Trump’s defense in a deeply personal press conference.

“He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed,” Kelly said, speaking on his son. “He knew what he was getting into by joining that one percent. He knew what the possibilities were, because we were at war.”

VICE News Tonight spoke to veterans and widows of service members about what they thought of Trump’s comments. Watch here.