Trump's silence on the U.S. deaths in Niger is untenable

Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
epa06257124 US President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks to members of the news media while hosting former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (not pictured)...

It's been three weeks. On Oct. 4, four U.S. Army Special Operations soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger, in the deadliest combat incident since Donald Trump took office, and yet, the president hasn't even acknowledged what happened.

Politico reported several days ago that the National Security Council drafted a statement on Oct. 5, expressing the president's condolences, but the statement was never issued, and no one from Trump World has explained why.

The president has been asked repeatedly to comment on the deadly attack, but he's brushed off every inquiry. Last week, given a chance to acknowledge the soldiers' deaths, Trump responded by bragging about how great he was at contacting fallen Americans' families -- which touched off a parallel controversy, but sidestepped the underlying question.

On Monday's show, Rachel described this dynamic as "strange to the point of perplexing," which is clearly correct. There are all kinds of questions about what exactly transpired on the ground in Niger, and why American troops are there in the first place, but we're still stuck on a basic question that shouldn't be shrouded in mystery: why does the president refuse to acknowledge the attack that left four Americans dead?

To be sure, operational questions matter, and we continue to learn more about the mission itself. But the president who's quick to pontificate reflexively on all kinds of random issues refuses to say a word about the deadliest combat incident of his term to date, and the White House hasn't explained why Trump insists on silence.

As Rachel noted on the show last week, there are sometimes legitimate reasons why U.S. officials have to remain silent on combat deaths, at least temporarily. But the Pentagon has publicly commented on the deadly violence in Niger -- as has the White House press secretary -- which necessarily means there's no prohibition on discussing the attack.

It means Trump is choosing not to say a word about this.

Maybe the president is afraid of blame. Maybe Trump believes acknowledging this attack would undermine his boasts about his national security prowess. Maybe he's convinced his political standing is so weak, any kind of bad news would push his approval rating lower. Maybe Trump is still trying to think of a way to blame this on Barack Obama and he hasn't come up with anything yet.

At this point, we can only speculate as to why the usually gregarious presidents insists, in this one instance, on reticence. But as the list of questions grow, and Congress begins to demand answers, Trump's refusal to comment on these Americans' deaths is untenable.