The families of slain US soldiers have lashed out at Donald Trump, branding him a "fat f**king liar", after he falsely said past presidents had never called them.
"When my brother was killed, Pres Bush listened while I screamed at him and then held me as I sobbed, you fat f***ing liar," Delilia O'Malley tweeted at President Trump on Monday night, referring to her brother who was killed in the Iraq War.
Her fury was echoed by Gold Star families and the staff of former presidents, who accused President Trump of blatantly lying, news.com.au reported.
The Republican leader said in a news conference on Monday he had written to the families of four soldiers killed in an October 4 ambush in Niger and planned to call them, crediting himself with taking extra steps in honouring the dead properly.
"Most of them didn't make calls," he said of his predecessors. He said it was possible that President Barack Obama "did sometimes" but "other presidents did not call".
But the record is plain that presidents visited, wrote to, or called the families of the dead.
Trump doubled down on his comments, saying reporters should ask his chief of staff, General John Kelly, if Obama called him after his son, Robert, was killed by a landmine in Afghanistan in 2010.
"You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama? I don't know what Obama's policy was," Trump said on Fox News Radio. "I really speak for myself. I am not speaking for other people. I don't know what [George W.] Bush did. I don't know what Obama did. I believe his policy was somewhat different than my policy. I can tell you, my policy is I have called every one of them."
Trump's comments triggered a visceral reaction from many who witnessed those grieving encounters.
"He's a deranged animal," Alyssa Mastromonaco, a former deputy chief of staff to President Obama, tweeted about President Trump. With an expletive, she called his statement in the Rose Garden a lie.
Obama's former White House spokesman Josh Earnest said his boss 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 phone calls and letters.
Eric Holder, Obama's former attorney-general, called on Trump to tell the truth.
"Stop the damn lying - you're the President," he tweeted.
President George W. Bush, even at the height of two wars, "wrote all the families of the fallen", said Freddy Ford, spokesman for the ex-president.
He said President Bush also called or met "hundreds, if not thousands" of family members of the war dead.
President Obama's official photographer, Pete Souza, said he photographed the Democrat leader "meeting hundreds of wounded soldiers, and family members of those killed in action".
Others recalled his frequent visits to Gold Star families, and travels to Walter Reed, Dover and other venues with families of the dead, and with the wounded.
Retired General Martin E. Dempsey, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed these contacts, tweeting: "POTUS 43 & 44 and first ladies cared deeply, worked tirelessly for the serving, the fallen, and their families. Not politics. Sacred Trust."
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said later that President Trump "wasn't criticising predecessors, but stating a fact".
She argued that presidents didn't always call families of those killed in battle: "Sometimes they call, sometimes they send a letter, other times they have the opportunity to meet family members in person."
She said anyone claiming a former president had called every family was "mistaken".
President Trump's relations with Gold Star families have not always been smooth, dating from his belittlement of the parents of slain US soldier Humayun Khan, who was Muslim.
President Trump was angered when the soldier's father, Khizr Khan, was given a platform to criticise him at the Democratic National Convention.