Obama defense sec: Trump's treatment of Gold Star families 'sickens' me

Former Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelGOP Senate candidate said Republicans have 'dual loyalties' to Israel White House aide moves to lobbying firm Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces MORE on Thursday expressed his disgust with President Trump's treatment of the families of slain soldiers, saying Trump's behavior "sickens" him. 

“I’m offended by the way he’s handled it,” the Obama-era official told USA Today. 

“You just don’t use the families of the fallen to score political points, especially to take jabs at your predecessor. I’m very unhappy about this,” he continued. 


Hagel's comments come after Trump found himself embroiled in a controversy over his treatment of Gold Star families in following the death of Army Sgt. La David Johnson in Niger earlier this month. 

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) told CNN earlier this week that she was in a car with Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, during a trip to meet her husband's casket when Trump called and told the widow her late husband “knew what he signed up for ... but when it happens it hurts anyway.” 

Wilson said that Myeshia Johnson was "very distraught after the call."

The president fired back at Wilson in a tweet on Wednesday, saying she fabricated the account. 


However, the mother of the mother of La David Johnson told The Washington Post on Wednesday that the president did disrespect her family. 

Hagel, a Nebraskan Republican who before serving as Obama's defense secretary held a seat in the Senate, said he was particularly incensed by the way Trump used White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, a retired Marine Corps general whose son was killed in Afghanistan, to score political points against Obama.

Trump drew Kelly into the controversy when he said that Obama didn't call Kelly following the death of the chief of staff's son.

“Particularly as commander-in-chief to do this to score political points,” Hagel told USA Today. “This is one issue in which all Americans should be able to come together. There should be complete unity.”

Kelly on Thursday offered an emotional and personal defense of the president at the White House press briefing.

“He expressed his condolences in the best way that he could,” Kelly said of Trump. 

“It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. I would have thought that was sacred,” he said, taking aim at Wilson.