President Trump, in his third week in office, met with a class of Green Beret candidates and brought them into the Oval Office for the first time in the course’s history.
The 18 Army officers in the Special Forces Qualification Course, or “Q-course,” were visiting the National Security Council in early February, as a normal part of the course.
But this time, Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka, who was scheduled to speak to the students, had suggested that they meet the president.
The plan was to take them into the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing of the White House, but Trump decided to invite them into the Oval Office, to take pictures with them for their families.
“Halfway through the discussion, [Trump] said, ‘Hey — we’re not supposed to do this, but follow me,’ and he brought them all into the Oval Office, took a group photograph around the Resolute desk, and then — throwing the schedules into a bit of a tizzy, said, ‘OK that’s not good enough,'” Gorka told Breitbart News in an interview.
“He said, ‘Everybody stand in the corner.’ They all stood in the corner, and one-by-one we took photographs they can take home to their family with each future Green Beret next to the president at the Oval Office desk,” Gorka said.
“That’s how much he loves our soldiers — our warriors,” he said. Gorka had earlier brought up the meeting during remarks on a panel at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday. Under Obama, he said, they “wouldn’t have even gotten into the West Wing.”
The Feb. 7 meeting, which was announced a day in advance, was not covered at the time by any news outlet.
It also prompted criticism from Democrats that Trump was trying to use the military for political gain.
A source familiar with the preparations for the event told Breitbart News shortly after the event occurred that the president’s decision to meet with the officers set off an “intense” scramble.
The source said NSC officials scrambled to notify Pentagon officials so they would not be surprised, and no preparation materials had been drafted — such as background information on the course, expected topics of discussion, biographies of the students, talking points for the president, or other materials normally produced for a presidential meeting.
The source characterized the meeting as a “photo op” for the president to “once again, wrap himself in the flag of the military.”
A White House official, responding to a query by Breitbart News, said the meeting was private and “couldn’t be publicized.”
“It’s noteworthy to take the time to do an event that couldn’t be publicized,” the official said.
Photos from the event were never publicly distributed.
Several Pentagon and Army officials denied there was any “scramble” and said that they were notified earlier in the week about the meeting and characterized it as a “non-issue.”
“Army officials were notified of the photo opportunity with the President beforehand,” Army Col. Patrick Seibert told Breitbart News.
Gorka also dismissed the report there was a scramble and said the plan was conceived a week and a half in advance.
“The opposition media will of course want to spin it, which is just ridiculous” he said.
During his first month in office, Trump has engaged with members of the military at least four times.
He was sworn in on Jan. 20, and a week later on Jan. 27, he made his first trip to the Pentagon. There, he met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and attended the ceremonial swearing in of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
A few days later, on Feb. 1, he made a private visit to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, to receive the remains of Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, a Navy SEAL who died of wounds during a mission in Yemen.
Five days later, on Feb. 6, he visited MacDill Air Force Base to meet with Central Command commander Army Gen. Joe Votel and Special Operations Command commander Army Gen. Tony Thomas. He also ate lunch with enlisted service members, and spoke with representatives of the multinational anti-ISIS coalition.
The next day, back in Washington, he would meet with the Special Forces Qualification Course students.
Trump has also had several strategy sessions with Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, the White House official said.
One top Democrat criticized Trump’s meeting at Centcom, specifically his comment: “We had a wonderful election, didn’t we? And I saw those numbers, and you like me and I like you, that’s the way it works.”
The visits have prompted Democratic criticism that the president was inappropriately politicizing the military.
A brief search of news articles showed that former President Obama had almost as many engagements with the military during his first month in office.
During the Commander-in-Chief inaugural ball, Obama video-conferenced in Illinois National Guard members who were serving in Afghanistan.
He first visited the Pentagon on day nine of his administration, two days later than Trump in his administration. About three weeks in, he visited with family members of those killed in the 2000 USS Cole bombing. He visited Fort Myers in Florida about a week later.