WASHINGTON - President Trump met with slain Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen's family Thursday in an emotional meeting and announced his support for a new congressional bill aimed at changing how sexual abuse and harassment cases are handled by the military.
The attorney representing the family, Natalie Khawam, joined Guillen’s mother and sisters for an appearance Thursday afternoon with President Trump in the Oval Office.
"Her daughter died. Her daughter died while serving her country at the hand of people who are in the military," a translator told Trump. "She just wants your help to get the truth, get justice."
Trump, who reportedly had invited Guillen's relatives to come and tell their story, asked that Khawam tell the media about the case she was representing, adding that he didn't want Guillen's story to be "swept under the rug."
Khawan described the situation surrounding sexual harassment and assualt in the military as "picking at a scab" and finding that it was "septic." Guillen's family had said the soldier was a victim of sexual harassment.
"It's a systemic problem," Khawam told Trump in the Oval Office. "There isn't enough protection in place, because they get nervous about retaliation."
Khawam went on to say that the military has not been transparent or helpful in gaining answers surrounding the murder of Guillen, who was killed on base, in the armory of Fort Hood.
"You have our support and we're working on it already, as you know," Trump said announcing his backing of the #IamVanessaGuillen Bill.
"We won't stop, and hopefully something very positive will come out in honor of your sister and your daughter," Trump said to Guillen's family.
The congressional bill, named in memory of Guillen, would allow active-duty service members to report sexual harassment or assault to a third party outside their chain of command. The goal is to eliminate fears of retaliation that discourage soldiers from reporting abuse by superiors.
"My daughter is already history," the soldier's mother, Gloria Guillen, told a crowd in Spanish Thursday morning at a news conference on the National Mall. "If the president of the nation wants to make history together with my daughter, he’ll make sure that the devil base is closed and all the damn corruption that exists in the Army is cleaned out."
"I am a 16-year-old girl -- a woman standing here speaking for my sister. I want Congress to pass #IamVanessaGuillen," Vanessa Guillén’s younger sister, Lupe, said.
The Army on Thursday also named an independent panel of five experts to investigate the culture at Fort Hood around the time of Guillen’s disappearance. The review will be headed by Chris Swecker, an attorney and former assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.
“The Army is committed to taking care of our soldiers, civilians, families, and soldiers for life, and this independent review will explore the current command climate and culture at Fort Hood," Army Sec. Ryan McCarthy said in a statement, according to USA Today.
Guillen was reported missing from the U.S. Army base in Texas in April. She was believed to have been bludgeoned to death and dismembered by a fellow soldier on the base. Her remains turned up in late June and the main suspect, Spc. Aaron Robinson, shot and killed himself as law enforcement closed in on him in the neighboring city of Killeen, officials said. Robinson’s girlfriend, 22-year-old Cecily Ann Aguilar, pleaded not guilty to conspiracy charges alleging she helped discard the body and hide evidence.
"We will not accept anything less than justice for Vanessa," Khawam said in a statement. "When someone volunteers to serve our country, they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by their fellow service members. This bill will help us provide the protection and respect to others that was denied to Vanessa."
Khawam and Guillen's family have claimed that Robinson was sexually harassing Guillen, describing one instance during which he watched her shower at the base. Army investigators disclosed earlier this month that Guillen never filed a formal complaint but may have been harassed in an unrelated matter that was under investigation.
Khawam and her clients are set to hold another news conference at The Ellipse, a park south of the White House fence, to talk about the private meeting with the president and next steps.