President Donald Trump bashed reports that he often has disparaged U.S. military members, including soldiers who died in World War I, but at a Friday press conference then went on to say he doesn’t regret saying the late Sen. John McCain, who spent years as a prisoner of war, was not a hero.
“There is nobody that feels more strongly about our soldiers, our wounded warriors, our soldiers that died in war than I do,” Trump said when a reporter asked him about the Thursday article in The Atlantic.
“It’s a hoax. Just like the fake dossier was a hoax, just like the ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’ was a hoax,” he said, referring to investigations that, in fact, detailed Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, in part to aid him.
The series of revelations in The Atlantic story included the allegation that while on a trip to France in 2018, the president referred to the U.S. soldiers killed in World War I as “losers” and “suckers,” according to multiple sources. He allegedly made one of the comments while refusing to visit a cemetery where some of the casualties are buried, saying, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.”
The Washington Post confirmed the gist of the story, citing a former senior administration official who said Trump regularly made such remarks about fallen and wounded veterans. Other confirmations of aspects of the story came from The Associated Press and Fox News.
The Atlantic said it contacted the White House multiple times for comment. Trump insisted Friday that, “Nobody called me from the magazine. ... They just write whatever they want to write.”
The article revived comments Trump made about McCain, a Navy pilot who spent more than five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, in 2015, early in his first presidential campaign: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
Trump also called McCain, an Arizona Republican who was the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, a “loser” ― a comment the president denied in a tweet Thursday despite there being footage of the insult.
Asked during Friday’s briefing if he regretted those remarks, Trump replied, “I say what I say.” He then went on to list criticisms of McCain, one of the president’s most vocal GOP critics until his death in 2018.
“I never got along with John McCain,” Trump said. “I disagreed with John McCain. ... I wasn’t a fan. I disagreed with many of his views, I disagreed with his views on these ridiculous endless wars, I disagreed with the way he handled the vets, the (Veterans Affairs Department) ― the VA is running much better now.”
However, he continued, “that doesn’t mean I don’t respect him.”
Trump also lashed out at his former White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general who he suggested could be a source for The Atlantic’s report.
“Didn’t do a good job, had no temperament,” Trump said. “And ultimately he was petered out, he was exhausted. This man was totally exhausted. He wasn’t even able to function in the last number of months.”
One of Kelly’s sons was a Marine killed in Afghanistan. According to The Atlantic, when Trump and Kelly visited the son’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in 2017, the president said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”
Kelly has made no public comment on the article, neither confirming nor ― many have noted ― denying the report.