Trump cites concern for first lady’s safety during surprise trip to Iraq

President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE said Wednesday that he was concerned for the safety of first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpEl Paso, Dayton hospitals deny Trump claim of doctors leaving OR to meet him The Hill's Morning Report: How will Trump be received at G-7? Ex-Melania Trump adviser raised concerns of excessive inauguration spending weeks before events: CNN MORE when making an unannounced trip to visit U.S. troops in Iraq for the Christmas holiday.

“I had concerns about the institution of the presidency. Not for myself personally. I had concerns for the first lady, I will tell you,” Trump told reporters shortly after landing at the Al Asad Airbase west of Baghdad.

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“But if you would have [seen] what we had to go through in the darkened plane with all window[s] closed with no light anywhere. Pitch black. I’ve been on many airplanes. All types and shapes and sizes,” Trump added. “So did I have a concern? Yes, I had a concern.”

The president and first lady departed Washington late Tuesday to make a previously unannounced trip to visit American forces in Iraq, where Trump met with military leaders and delivered remarks to roughly 100 U.S. troops involved in combat operations in Iraq and Syria. Details of the trip were kept under wraps until Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday's trip was Trump’s first to a combat zone in his nearly two years in the White House. He had previously faced scrutiny from critics for not visiting a combat zone since becoming president. 

"I want to come and pay my respects most importantly to the great soldiers, great troopers we have here," Trump said Wednesday. 

It has been routine practice for presidents to visit combat zones around the holidays, and Trump appeared to concede Wednesday that his personal safety was one thing that kept him from visiting combat zones.

The president also said previous attempted visits were canceled for “security reasons” because “people were finding out” he was planning to go.

First ladies have also previously taken trips to war-torn areas. Then-first lady Laura Bush, for instance, visited Afghanistan in 2005 to meet with Afghan women and U.S. troops.