What really happened in Niger?

Today’s White House press briefing was unusually illuminating. Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked a lot of questions about the growing scandal over Donald Trump’s mishandling of the failed Niger mission that killed four American service members.

Specifically, Trump has been hammered over why he failed to offer his condolences to the families of the slain Americans, or even comment publicly on their deaths — both things presidents normally do.

Earlier this week, Trump responded angrily, and seemingly blamed President Obama, claiming that Obama and other previous presidents never offered condolences to the family of our military heroes. In fact, that’s wrong.

You can listen to a portion of our latest podcast on this topic here:

Then, Trump brought up the fallen son of his chief of staff, General John Kelly, who was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan. Trump suggested that Obama didn’t reach out to the Kelly family after their son died — in fact, they were invited to the Obama White House to an event with Gold Star Families, and were seated at Michelle Obama’s table. But regardless, what does that have to do with Trump’s response now?

Niger-mapTo make matters worse, CNN and the Washington Post have confirmed that when Trump called the pregnant widow one of the four soldiers killed, La David Johnson, Trump shocked the woman by telling her that her husband “knew what he signed up for.” Trump claims he never said it, but the soldier’s mother, who was listening to the speakerphone conversation, says Trump did, and the grieving spouse was mortified. (A Democratic member of Congress also heard the call, and confirms what Trump said.)

Then today, Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to deny that Trump told the widow “he knew what he signed up for.” She was asked to deny he said it, and she refused. But it gets better: Sanders then claimed that General Kelly, who NEVER talks about his son in public, is “disgusted” at how the deaths of our soldiers have been politicized. Does that mean Kelly is disgusted with Trump? Because either Trump got permission from Kelly in advance to use Kelly’s dead son as a political prop, or he didn’t. Either way, if Kelly had any dignity left, he’d resign.

But it gets even more interesting. Politico is now reporting that White House staff drafted a statement of condolence immediately after the troops were killed in Niger, and Trump for some reason refused to make it public. Why not? Then add another piece of news: Two reporters say that John McCain told them that Trump isn’t telling the full truth of what happened in Niger. CNN’s Manu Raju reported on Twitter:

Reporter: Is the Trump administration being up front about what happened in Niger?

“No,” McCain said, per @KilloughCNN

Others in Congress have also said that Trump isn’t being honest about what happened during the ambush that killed our soldiers in Niger. Those voices include GOP Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “We have a little bit of info, but not what we should.”

So what is Trump hiding? And, is that why he killed the statement of condolence, because he’s hiding something about the deaths of our soldiers in Niger?

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that Trump made some rash decision that got those soldiers killed. And now he’s covering it up.

In, fact, the French claim that the mission in Niger didn’t have enough intelligence backing it up, nor was there enough planning behind it.

A diplomat with knowledge of the incident said French officials were frustrated by the U.S. troops’ actions, saying they had acted on only limited intelligence and without contingency plans in place.

Does that sound familiar? It should. Back in January, a US Navy Seal was killed during a mission that many suggested Trump rushed. Trump made the decision to go in over dinner with Bannon and Kushner, rather than in the Situation Room where such decisions are normally made because the president has access to far more information. The mission was a mess, and it was a first glimpse into Trump’s seat-of-the-pants decisionmaking.

Did Trump rush the job and do it again in Niger? Because nobody signed up for this.

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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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