President Donald Trump, who has been criticized in the past for making disparaging remarks about veterans and military families, reportedly referred to American service members who died in World War I as “losers” and “suckers” in conversations with his staff.
The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, citing multiple anonymous sources who had firsthand knowledge of the conversations, reported Thursday on the president’s comments.
According to Goldberg, Trump uttered the belittling remarks about the American war dead while in France in 2018.
During that trip, the president nixed a planned visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery ― a World War I cemetery in Belleau, France, near the site of the Battle of Belleau Wood. Trump blamed rain for the cancellation at the time.
Goldberg said, however, that Trump had actually “rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead.”
In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.
Goldberg said later in the article that Trump had also referred separately to John McCain, the late senator and war veteran, as a “fucking loser.”
Trump has previously been criticized for denigrating McCain, who was held for 5½ years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said in 2015 of McCain. “I like people who weren’t captured.”
Associated Press reporter James LaPorta later corroborated Goldberg’s article, saying a senior Defense Department official had confirmed the information.
The Washington Post also confirmed the story, with a former senior administration official telling the paper that the president “frequently made disparaging comments about veterans and soldiers missing in action, referring to them at times as ‘losers.’”
On Friday, Fox News too lent credence to the report, saying two former Trump administration officials had confirmed details in the story.
According to Jennifer Griffin, a national security correspondent for the network, one of the officials said Trump had also trivialized the Vietnam War.
“When the President spoke about the Vietnam War, he said, ‘It was a stupid war. Anyone who went was a sucker,’” Griffin said, quoting the official.
White House spokesperson Alyssa Farah told HuffPost that Goldberg’s report was “false.”
“President Trump holds the military in the highest regard. He’s demonstrated his commitment to them at every turn: delivering on his promise to give our troops a much needed pay raise, increasing military spending, signing critical veterans reforms and supporting military spouses,” Farah said.
Trump himself later denied Goldberg’s report, insisting that he never called McCain a “loser” and that he “never called our great fallen soldiers anything other than HEROES.”
John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, said Friday that he had not personally heard the president utter the denigrating remarks about the fallen WWI soldiers, though he had been present at the discussion in France.
“I didn’t hear that,” Bolton told The New York Times. “I’m not saying he didn’t say them later in the day or another time but I was there for that discussion.”
HuffPost’s S.V. Dáte reported earlier this week that Trump had refused for two years to go to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to receive the bodies of U.S. soldiers ― despite his insistence that he has paid his respects to “many, many” U.S. soldiers killed in the line of duty.
A former White House aide told Dáte that Trump had stopped going to the base after Bill Owens, the father of a slain Navy SEAL, refused to shake the president’s hand at a 2017 meeting and lambasted Trump for his incompetence.
“He refused to go back for two years, he was so rattled,” the aide said of the president.
Trump never served in the military. He received five military deferments, including one for alleged bone spurs in his feet and four for education, during the Vietnam War.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden responded to the report on Twitter, writing: “If I have the honor of serving as the next commander in chief, I will ensure that our American heroes know that I will have their back and honor their sacrifice. Always.”
Vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris backed up Biden’s comments. Biden “knows firsthand the sacrifices members of our military and their families make for our nation. As president, he will always have their backs—just as they’ve had ours,” she wrote on Twitter.
This story has been updated with confirmation from other outlets, including Fox News.
Liza Hearon contributed reporting.