President Donald Trump is lashing out at a report he disparaged US soldiers who died in wars, suggested wounded veterans not participate in military parades because of their amputations, and angrily resented that flags were lowered to half-staff after the death of Sen. John McCain.
The claims were made in a bombshell report in the Atlantic by editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg on Thursday, citing multiple unnamed sources described as being firsthand witnesses to Trump’s comments. Two military sources later confirmed some of the president’s comments to the Associated Press. On Friday afternoon, a Fox News reporter also confirmed much of the reporting, citing two former senior Trump officials.
According to the Atlantic, Trump declined to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in 2018 to mark the centenary of the end of World War I because he didn’t want to get his hair wet in the rain and because the graves were full of “losers” who had been “suckers” for getting killed in battle.
At the time, and again on Thursday night after the story was published, Trump said poor weather prevented him from flying via helicopter and that Secret Service officials were not prepared to drive him there. (Both the leaders of France and Germany did attend the event, as did then–White House chief of staff John Kelly.)
“Now all of a sudden somebody makes up this horrible story that I didn’t want to go, and then they make up an even worse story, an even worse story, calling certain names to our fallen heroes,” he told reporters on Air Force One on Thursday, as he traveled back from a Pennsylvania rally. “It’s a disgrace that a magazine is able to write it.”
“I would be willing to swear on anything that I never said that about our fallen heroes,” he insisted.
Other Trump White House staffers also denied hearing the president make any such comments.
But at least part of the president’s denials about the Atlantic story was a lie.
In a Twitter thread late Thursday night, he denied that he had ever called McCain a loser, despite the Atlantic reporting he did not want to support the Arizona senator’s funeral when he died in 2018. “What the fuck are we doing that for?” the Atlantic quoted him as telling senior staff, citing three sources. “Guy was a fucking loser.”
“I never called John a loser,” Trump wrote on Twitter, saying he had approved of the state funeral arrangements despite not being “a big fan” of McCain.
But Trump, of course, famously did call McCain a loser.
“He lost [the 2008 election], so I never liked him as much after that because I don’t like losers,” Trump said in 2015 as he ran for president in Iowa. “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
At the time, Trump even reshared his comments on Twitter.
Miles Taylor — the former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security under the Trump administration, who has since been speaking out against the president, describing him as “dangerous” — also hit back publicly against Trump’s denials about McCain.
“Mr. President, this is not true,” Taylor, who helped sell Trump’s family separations policy at the border, tweeted on Friday morning. “You were angry that DHS notified federal buildings to lower the flags for Sen. McCain. I would know because your staff called and told me.”