The White House released a sharply worded statement defending Trump — who has insulted POWs, traded barbs with grieving families of the dead and said before he was president that avoiding sexually transmitted diseases was his own “personal Vietnam” — against accusations that he doesn’t respect the military.
“This report is false. President Trump holds the military in the highest regard,” White House spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said of the Atlantic’s reporting. “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. This has no basis in fact.”
Trump then spoke to reporters late Thursday after arriving back in Washington from a campaign trip to Pennsylvania. He angrily denied the article’s claims, calling it a “disgrace” and the sources “lowlifes.”
“I would be willing to swear on anything that I never said that about our fallen heroes,” he said. “There is nobody that respects them more. So, I just think it’s a horrible, horrible thing.”
He also tweeted about the article, claiming he “was never a big fan” of the late senator John McCain but that he never called him a loser. “I never called John a loser. I swear on whatever, or whoever, I was asked to swear on, that I never called our great fallen soldiers anything other than HEROES,” Trump wrote. “This is more made up Fake News given by disgusting & jealous failures in a disgraceful attempt to influence the 2020 Election!”
In a 2015 interview, Trump called McCain a “loser.” It was in the same conversation in which Trump questioned McCain’s heroism, but he called him a “loser” in the context of his losing the 2008 presidential election.
Trump was “offended” by the claims in the report, said his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One late Thursday. Another White House official, retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, an adviser to Vice President Pence, tweeted that the Atlantic report is “completely false.”
“Absolutely lacks merit,” said Kellogg, who spoke last week at the Republican National Convention. “I’ve been by the president’s side. He has always shown the highest respect to our active duty troops and veterans with utmost respect paid to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice and those wounded in battle.”
A former senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly, confirmed to The Washington Post that the president frequently made disparaging comments about veterans and soldiers missing in action, referring to them at times as “losers.”
In one account, the president told senior advisers that he didn’t understand why the U.S. government placed such value on finding soldiers missing in action because they had performed poorly and gotten caught and deserved what they got, according to a person familiar with the discussion.
Trump believed people who served in the Vietnam War must be “losers” because they hadn’t gotten out of it, according to a person familiar with the comments. Trump also complained bitterly to then-Chief of Staff John F. Kelly that he didn’t understand why Kelly and others in the military treated McCain, who had been imprisoned and tortured during the Vietnam War, with such reverence. “Isn’t he kind of a loser?” Trump asked, according to the person familiar with Trump’s comments.
Trump, who received a medical deferment from Vietnam over alleged bone spurs, has said as much publicly about McCain. During the 2016 presidential election, Trump derided McCain’s legacy as a war hero, saying of his years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, “I like people who weren’t captured.”
Trump often boasts of his support for the military but often exaggerates his record. Service members have received annual pay increases every year for decades, not just under Trump. The president has falsely claimed he produced the first pay raise for service members in a decade. However, Trump did produce the largest one-year increase in pay since 2010, according to Pentagon data.
The first expansion of veterans’ health care to include private-sector doctors, often touted by Trump as the centerpiece of his veterans advocacy, began under President Barack Obama following the wait time scandal at the Phoenix VA hospital in 2014.
Trump’s Democratic opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, issued a lengthy statement Thursday night saying that if the Atlantic report is 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.”
“I have long said that, as a nation, we have many obligations, but we only have one truly sacred obligation — to prepare and equip those we send into harm’s way, and to care for them and their families,…