Trump Denies Account of Him Disparaging U.S. War Dead, McCain
President Donald Trump on Thursday night strongly denied an explosive report that he had belittled Americans who died in the nation’s wars as “losers.”
“It’s a total lie. It’s fake news,” Trump said of an article in the Atlantic published earlier Thursday.
According to the article, Trump, on a trip to France in November 2018, skipped a planned visit to the graves of American Marines killed defending Paris in the closing days of World War I because he didn’t think their sacrifice had any significance, and complained: “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.”
The Atlantic, citing several unnamed sources, said that Trump also referred to the dead Marines as “suckers” and said he didn’t want to get his hair mussed in the rain.
At the time, Trump tweeted that the cemetery trip had been called off because the bad weather had made a helicopter flight out of the question and the Secret Service would not let him travel there by car.
A person familiar with the matter said Trump was disappointed when he was told that he couldn’t go to the cemetery. His trip to Paris was scheduled around ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
The Atlantic also said that Trump wondered aloud during the same trip why the U.S. joined France and Britain in the epic conflict with imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary, and asked, “Who were the good guys in this war?”
‘Swear on Anything’
The account in the Atlantic also contained allegations that Trump referred to the late Republican Senator John McCain, a longtime prisoner of war in North Vietnam, as a “loser.”
A senior Defense Department official with firsthand knowledge of events and a senior U.S. Marine Corps officer who was told about Trump’s comments confirmed some of the remarks to the Associated Press, including the 2018 cemetery comments.
Trump, speaking to reporters late Thursday night after a campaign trip to Pennsylvania, said, “I would be willing to swear on anything” that the article was wrong.
Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic opponent in the November election, said in a statement on Thursday night that “if the revelations in today’s Atlantic article are true, then they are yet another marker of how deeply President Trump and I disagree about the role of the president of the United States.”
Trump is trailing Biden in polls conducted after both parties held their conventions last month and he asserted that the article was an attempt to “influence a presidential election.”
Defenders Rise Up
Current and former Trump administration officials quickly emerged to denounce the Atlantic report as false and affirmed the president’s support for the armed forces and those who serve.
Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted that “I was actually there and one of the people part of the discussion — this never happened. I have sat in the room when our president called family members after their sons were killed in action and it was heart-wrenching.”
Keith Kellogg, a retired Army general and now national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, said in a statement on Twitter that the article “absolutely lacks merit.”
In 2015, Trump denigrated McCain’s war record, saying the Arizona senator and fellow Republican was “not a war hero” despite being tortured in a Vietnamese prison and refusing advantages offered to him because his father was a prominent Navy officer. “I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump remarked then.
On Thursday night, he said “As far as John McCain is concerned I was never a fan. I will admit that openly. I disagreed with him on the endless wars.” He added: “But I still respected him. And I had to approve his funeral as president. We lowered the flags.”
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