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At Thursday's briefing, the Chief of Staff only called on reporters who know gold star families for questions. Photo: Susan Walsh / AP

Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly said Thursday he did not receive a phone call from President Obama when his son was killed in Afghanistan. "That's not a criticism," Kelly added. He said that he initially advised Trump not to make phone calls to families.

Kelly told Trump, "There's nothing you can do to lighten the burden." The president called the four families who lost soldiers in Niger and offered condolences in "the best way he could ... It stuns me" that a member of Congress listened in on that phone call. "I thought at least that's sacred," he said. The Chief of Staff also confirmed that the president told Myeshia Johnson her husband "knew what he signed up for" and added Trump meant the statement as a testament to La David Johnson's heroism.

  • On soldiers who are killed in battle: "They are the best 1% this country produces."
  • Who writes letters to the families? The Secretary of Defense and the President "in my case," Kelly said.
  • Who calls the families? "Some presidents have elected to call. All presidents have elected to send letters." Obama and Bush typically did not make calls, Kelly said.
  • On the situation in Niger: "An investigation does not mean ... people's heads are gonna roll."
  • Kelly spent over an hour at Arlington Cemetery yesterday to "collect [his] thoughts."
  • To reporters, Kelly said: I appeal to you "as you write your stories to keep this one last thing sacred — men and women giving their lives for their country."
  • The Chief of Staff only called on reporters who know gold star families for questions.

Go deeper

39 mins ago - World

Biden seeks to reboot U.S. sanctions policy

Sanctions increased under Obama and dramatically under Trump. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The Biden administration is rethinking the U.S. approach to sanctions after four years of Donald Trump imposing and escalating them.

The big picture: Sanctions are among the most powerful tools the U.S. has to influence its adversaries’ behavior without using force. But they frequently fail to bring down regimes or moderate their behavior, and they can increase the suffering of civilians and resentment of the U.S.

47 mins ago - World

Merkel's farewell spoiled by Poland crisis at EU summit

One last awkward EU "family photo." Photo: John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

Angela Merkel took up her vaunted mantle as Europe's crisis manager for what could be the last time tonight, as she urged the EU to find compromise in its showdown with Poland.

Why it matters: The European Commission has threatened to withhold over $40 billion in pandemic recovery funds after Poland's constitutional tribunal — stacked with loyalists from the ruling right-wing populist party — rejected the principle that EU law has primacy over national law.

Republicans who put it all on the line

Rep. Nancy Mace speaks with reporters after voting to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

A small contingent of House Republicans risked their political futures on Thursday, they say, in the name of constitutional responsibility.

Why it matters: The nine Republicans who voted to hold former Trump aide Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress are now in peril of becoming political pariahs. They've opened themselves up to potential primary challengers and public attacks from their party's kingmaker — former President Trump.