Trump honors Navajo code talkers, makes racially-charged comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS NEWS) - President Donald Trump lashed out at a frequent foe of his while hosting an event for Native American code talkers at the White House on Monday, honoring war heroes who used their native language to outwit the enemy and protect U.S. battlefield communications during battle in World Wars I and II.

Mr. Trump hailed the men as "special people" who have an ultimate "love of the country". He also took the solemn occasion to acknowledge the history of the native people in America while also calling out Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, a reference to claims she made about being part Native American in the past.

"You're very very special people. You were here long before any of us were here. Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas. But you know what. I like you. Because you are special, " Mr. Trump remarked.

Mr. Trump has called her "Pocahontas" in the past in reference to questions about Warren's heritage.

Warren responded to the remarks during an appearance on MSNBC shortly after the ceremony, saying it was "supposed to be an event that honored heroes."

"It is deeply unfortunate that President of the United States cannot even make it through a ceremony honoring these heroes without having to throw out a racial slur," said Warren.

She added, "Donald Trump does this over and over thinking somehow he is gonna shut me up with this. It hadn't worked in the past, it is not gonna work in the future."

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders disputes that assessment, however, telling reporters at the White House press briefing Monday afternoon that it was a "ridiculous response" to call the name a racial slur, saying it was not the "president's intent."

"I think what most people find offensive is Sen. Warren's lying about her heritage to advance her career," she added.

The code talkers also called for a museum to built in honor of the war heroes to educate children, something Mr. Trump said he would help them do. "You deserve it," he added.

During the event, the code talkers described the harrowing experiences they undertook during their time defending the United States during the battle of Iwo Jima. Only 13 surviving Navajo code talkers still remain.

Members of Native American tribes exchanged sensitive military information by transmitting military plans to each other in their native tongues on the battlefield. Since in some cases, their languages were unwritten, they were able to communicate in a way that confused German enemies trying to break U.S. military codes.

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