Obama aides slam Trump over claim about past presidents, fallen soldiers

WASHINGTON, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Aides to former U.S. President Barack Obama fired back on Tuesday as criticism mounted over President Donald Trump's claim that past U.S. presidents did not contact family members of soldiers who died in combat during their time in the White House.

Trump offered no evidence to back up his claim on Monday, which was immediately pointed out to be false. His remarks came amid questions at a press conference over Trump not having responded yet to the deaths of four U.S. soldiers in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger.

Asked why he had not acknowledged the soldiers' deaths, Trump said he would send letters to their families later on Monday and would call them "at some point during the period of time."

Obama's former White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Tuesday that Obama would repeatedly "show his enormous respect ... for those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country" through various visits and meetings as well as phonecalls and letters.

Trump, a Republican who as president serves as commander-in-chief of the U.S. military, then appeared to criticize his predecessors handling of the issue of American soldiers' deaths.

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U.S. President Barack Obama (R) greets President-elect Donald Trump at inauguration ceremonies swearing in Trump as president on the West front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, U.S., November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) listens to President-elect Donald Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington, U.S., November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Republican President-elect Donald Trump (L) during a meeting on transition planning in the Oval Office at the White House on November 10, 2016 in Washington,DC. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) greets President-elect Donald Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington, U.S., November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump (L) to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, U.S., November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Republican President-elect Donald Trump (L) during a meeting on transition planning in the Oval Office at the White House on November 10, 2016 in Washington,DC. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump (L) to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, U.S., November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with President-elect Donald Trump (L) to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, U.S., November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 10: President Barack Obama shakes talks with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama, right, speaks as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump listens during a news conference in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. Obama on Thursday met face-to-face with Trump, who spent years questioning the eligibility of the first black U.S. president and now will succeed him. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 10: President Barack Obama shakes talks with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump and former president Barack Obama stand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol with First Lady Melania Trump and Michelle Obamal on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. REUTERS/Rob Carr/Pool
Mike Pence(L), Donald Trump (2nd L), U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden attend inauguration ceremonies swearing in Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States on the West front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President Donald Trump and former president Barack Obama exchange words at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC., U.S., January 20, 2017. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. REUTERS/Rob Carr/Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) greets former President Barack Obama after being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on the West front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
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"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," Trump said.

Pressed on his claim, particularly about Obama, Trump retreated.

"I don't know if he did. No," Trump 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."

"President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn't. I don't know. That's what I was told," Trump added. "Other presidents did not call, they'd write letters. And some presidents didn't do anything."

Obama's former aides were quick to lash back.

"Stop the damn lying - you’re the President," Eric Holder, Obama's former attorney general, said in a post on Twitter.

Alyssa Mastromonaco, Obama's former deputy chief of staff, also called it a lie.

Earnest, now an MSNBC commentator, told the network that past Republican and Democratic presidents had recognized their duty to honor soldiers' sacrifices and not highlight their own actions.

"Unfortunately, President Trump seems incapable of actually doing that," Earnest said.

A spokesperson for former President George W. Bush said he had called, written and visited the families of fallen soldiers.

Representatives of former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter either did not immediately respond to a request for comment or did not have an immediate reaction.

An aide to Clinton told ABC News that he did call the families of fallen soldiers. (Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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