President Trump on Monday forcefully denied making disparaging remarks about the military, calling reports to the contrary made up and blaming his decision not to attend a war memorial service in France on the weather.
Trump, in answer to a reporter’s question, told a news conference he doesn’t understand why his remarks during the 2016 campaign about the late Sen. John McCain, describing him as a “loser” for being captured by the North Vietnamese, would make people believe he described war casualties as “losers” and “suckers.”
The Atlantic, quoting sources, reported last week Trump canceled a visit to Aisne-Marne American Cemetery outside Paris in 2018 because he did not believe it is important to honor America’s war dead and because the rain would ruin his hairdo.
“Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers,” the Atlantic quoted him as saying, adding that in a later conversation he called 1,800 Marines who died at Belleau Wood “suckers” for getting killed.
The story has been confirmed by several news outlets, including Fox News and the Associated Press, and editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg told CNN Sunday he expects more on the story in coming weeks.
Trump, however, again denied the story, calling it a “hoax” and describing the reporter as “a big Obama person, a big Clinton person. He said “only an animal” would say those things.
He said 15 people have denied the story including Zach Fuentes, a top aide to former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Kelly himself has made no comment.
“I was never a fan of John McCain,” Trump said, accusing the maverick senator of wanting endless wars and blaming him for the Russia investigation because he passed on a dossier on Trump to the FBI.
“I wasn’t a fan,” Trump said. “I didn’t agree with him about a lot of things.”
Trump blamed his decision not to attend the war memorial on the weather, which prevented a helicopter from taking him to the cemetery. He said the Secret Service also ruled out driving.
“What was true is we had the worst weather. … I wanted to do it very badly. I had nothing else to do,” he said.
The firestorm over the alleged comments has roiled part of the president’s political base. A poll by the Military Times indicates Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden holds a 4-point lead over Trump among active-duty troops.
“It’s fair to say that Trump is not as popular as Republican nominees have been in the past among this group,” Peter Feaver, a George W. Bush White House adviser, told Military Times. “The bottom line is that in 2020, Trump can’t be claiming to have overwhelming support in the military.”
Trump avoided military service during the Vietnam War by claiming he had heel spurs.
Trump praised the military buildup that has occurred since he took office.
“I’m not saying the military’s in love with me — the soldiers are — the top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t, because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy,” he said.