President Donald Trump responded on Friday to reports that he denigrated the military—by refusing to take back his smear of the late Sen. John McCain’s military service and trashing his former chief of staff, retired Marine Corps general John Kelly.
The president trained his fury on a bombshell story in The Atlantic Thursday night that claimed Trump skipped a visit to the hallowed World War I Aisne-Marne American Cemetery because, in his words, “it’s filled with losers.” According to the magazine’s sourcing, Trump made several disturbing comments about fallen members of the nation’s armed forces.
Following The Atlantic’s story, The Associated Press, Fox News and The Washington Post published similar reports. The Post, citing their own source, wrote “that the president frequently made disparaging comments about veterans and soldiers missing in action, referring to them at times as “losers.’”
“There is nobody that feels more strongly about our soldiers, our wounded warriors, our soldiers that died in war, than I do,” Trump said of The Atlantic report during a Friday press briefing. “It's a hoax, just like the fake dossier was a hoax, just like the Russia Russia Russia was a hoax, it was a total hoax, no collusion, just like so many other things, it's a hoax.”
Trump allies adamantly denied the magazine's story was true on social media and the president himself took to Twitter on Friday morning to lash out at the “dying” magazine that made “up a fake story in order to gain some relevance.”
While Trump has often portrayed himself as being a champion of the military, his treatment of McCain, who died in 2018, has undercut his chest-thumping approach to the nation’s armed forces. During a July 2015 appearance in Iowa, Trump ridiculed McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, for his unsuccessful 2008 presidential run saying he didn’t like “losers.” “He’s not a war hero...he’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured,” Trump went on to say.
The Atlantic also reported that following McCain’s death, Trump said “we’re not going to support that loser’s funeral,” and questioned why flags were being lowered in his honor. “What the fuck are we doing that for? Guy was a fucking loser,” the magazine quoted Trump as saying, according to sources.
Asked on Friday if he regretted the 2015 comments, Trump said, “I say what I say and I never got along with John McCain. I disagreed with John McCain...I wasn't a fan. I disagreed with many of his views...I disagreed with John McCain on a lot of things. That doesn't mean I don’t respect him. I respected him. But I really disagreed with him on a lot of things and I think I was right, I think time has proven me right to a large extent.”
And even though Trump brought respected military veterans like Generals John Kelly and James Mattis into his administration early on, he has since relished in ridiculing both on social media following their departure. The Atlantic piece delved into a telling moment between Trump and Kelly during a 2017 trip to Arlington National Cemetery. The magazine reported that, while in the section of the cemetery where Kelly’s son Robert, a fallen Marine, was buried, Trump said near the grave, per sources, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”
According to the magazine, Kelly declined to comment for the story. But that didn’t stop Trump from wondering aloud on Friday if one of the article’s anonymous sources “could have been a guy like a John Kelly.”
Trump also slammed Kelly as someone who “didn’t do a good job,” for the president and said the “man was totally exhausted, he wasn’t even able to function in the last number of months.”
“He was unable to handle the pressure of this job,” Trump said. "This job was a tough job, Mark Meadows [is] doing a great job. But Kelly was unable to do that.”
On Friday morning, former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign held a call with reporters over The Atlantic story that included a pair of military veterans, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Rep. Connor Lamb (D-PA), lacing into Trump for his reported comments along with gold star parent Khizr Khan.
Hours later, Biden himself tore into Trump. The issue hit home for Biden given the military service of his son Beau Biden, who died from cancer in 2015.
“The servicemen and women he served with, particularly those who did not come home, were not ‘losers,’” Biden told reporters. “If these statements are true, the president should humbly apologize to every gold star mother and father and every blue star family that he has denigrated and insulted. Who the heck does he think he is?”
Biden’s press conference seemed to further annoy Trump, who attacked reporters for how they questioned the former Vice President earlier in the day.
“Those questions were meant for a child,” Trump said.
—With additional reporting from Hanna Trudo