NBA San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has blasted President Donald Trump for falsely asserting that his predecessors did not contact the families of fallen U.S. military service members. Popovich, a vocal critic of Trump, accused the president of being "a pathological liar."
On Oct. 16, Trump explained during a Rose Garden press conference why he had not publicly addressed the deaths of four U.S. soldiers in Niger.
"If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls -- a lot of them didn't make calls -- like to make calls when it's appropriate," Trump said.
When journalists pressed Trump to elaborate on his assertion, the president stated he was not entirely sure how often former President Barack Obama contacted fallen soldiers' next of kin.
"President Obama, I think probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn't," Trump said. "I don't know. That's what I was told."
Later that day, Popovich voiced outrage in response to Trump's comments and asserted that the president was running with country with "never ending divisiveness."
"But his comments today about those who have lost loved ones in times of war and his lies that previous presidents Obama and Bush never contacted their families are so beyond the pale, I almost don't have the words," Popovich told The Nation.
The NBA coach proceeded to offer strong words against the president.
"This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others ... We have a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally and psychologically to hold this office, and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day," Popovich added.
"The people who work with this president should be ashamed, because they know better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it," Popovich concluded. "This is their shame most of all."
Both Obama and former President George W. Bush contacted Gold Star families in a variety of capacities throughout their presidencies. A former senior Obama administration official who requested anonymity pushed back on Trump's assertion.
"President Trump's claim is wrong," the former official told NBC News. "President Obama engaged families of the fallen and wounded warriors throughout his presidency through calls, letters, visits to Section 60 at Arlington, visits to Walter Reed, visits to Dover, and regular meetings with Gold Star Families at the White House and across the country."
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement backing Trump's assertion.
"The president wasn't criticizing predecessors, but stating a fact ... Individuals claiming former presidents, such as their bosses, called each family of the fallen, are mistaken," Sanders said.
Popovich has been a vocal Trump critic. On May 14, the NBA coach asserted during a postgame press conference that the Trump administration had thrown "a cloud, a pall over the whole country in a paranoid, surreal sort of way."
"It's still early and I'm still sick to my stomach," Popovich said, reports CNN. "Not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenor and tone and all the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, and I live in that country where half the country ignored all that to elect someone."