The mother of Sean Smith, an American killed in the 2011 Benghazi attack, defended President Trump’s tribute to a Navy SEAL and his widow during his address to Congress Tuesday evening.
“I don’t see anything wrong with what the Donald did,” said Patricia Smith in a phone interview Wednesday.
“Not one little bit. He honored that woman, and her family,” she added. “What is wrong with that?”
During the address, Trump paid tribute to slain U.S. Navy SEAL Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens, the first U.S. service member to be killed during his watch in a January 29 Yemen raid.
Owens, who was present in the chamber, sat with her hands clasped and tears streaming down her face as members of Congress delivered the longest applause of the evening.
“Ryan is looking down right now, and he’s very happy because, I think, he just broke a record,” Trump told her, stepping away from his prepared remarks.
The moment drew criticism from some — mostly on the left — who accused Trump of exploiting Owens. A former Hillary Clinton and former President Obama campaign volunteer named Dan Grilo Tweeted that Owens was “not helping” herself or her husband’s memory by “standing there and clapping like an idiot.”
“Trump just used you,” Grilo Tweeted. Later, his company, Liberty Advisor Group, announced via a statement that he was fired for the Tweet.
Smith said critics of that moment are “digging their own holes.”
“Leave him alone for God’s sake. He’s doing something nice, what’s wrong with that?” she said.
Cindy Oji Axelson, the widow of Navy SEAL Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Axelson, said it is “only appropriate” that the family is recognized for their sacrifice.
“I know from first hand experience how difficult this experience is. Our Nation’s service members and their families do so much, and when we lose someone, it is only appropriate that the family is recognized for their sacrifice,” Axelson, who is the program director of the SEAL Family Foundation, told Breitbart News in an email.
“Mrs. Owens and her family are in my thoughts and prayers, and I’d like her to know she is not alone — our Foundation is here for all Naval Special Warfare Families, and we will never forget,” she said. Axelson’s 2005 death in Afghanistan would be later chronicled in the book and movie Lone Survivor.
Lolita Zinke, the wife of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a retired Navy SEAL commander, called the criticism “ridiculous.”
“I think it was absolutely appropriate for the president to honor Ryan Owens in the way that he did, and to honor his wife and her sacrifice, and his ultimate sacrifice to our country,” she said in a phone interview with Breitbart News. “I was very proud of the president in how he articulated that message.”
Zinke said the day after Trump went to Dover Air Force base in January to receive Owens’ body and meet with family members, he had a “noticeable weight on his shoulders.”
“That was the first death in his presidency, and it was a sobering reminder of what the president … is responsible for, and the consequence of his action,” she said.
She added that those who say Trump exploited the Owens family are actually exploiting the family themselves by trying to “diminish the tribute in such a trivial way.”
“Of course nothing ever, ever is going to bring her husband back, or diminish her pain at all, but I think that knowing that her husband was honored in such a way will in some way bring her some small comfort, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” she said.
“To have him not honored in the way that it was — in front of the world, would be even more difficult,” she said.