Top administration officials on Sunday said they’ve never heard President Donald Trump make disparaging remarks about veterans or the military, a subtle attempt to dispute a report in The Atlantic. But the president’s top defender was the president himself.
Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, reported last week that Trump in November 2018 told senior staff that the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris was “filled with losers” and that in a separate conversation he called the 1,800 Marines who died at Belleau Wood “suckers” for getting killed.
Trump was also furious when the White House lowered flags to half-staff following Arizona Sen. John McCain’s death, Goldberg reported, and the president told senior staff that they wouldn’t “support that loser’s funeral,” adding that the war hero “was a f–king loser.” Goldberg reported that Trump made similar comments about President George H.W. Bush, whose plane was shot down during World War II.
The Associated Press, Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and Fox News all confirmed some elements of The Atlantic’s 1,500-word report, but Trump and his allies have denied since Thursday that he made such comments.
On Sunday, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie credited Trump for what he called a “renaissance” at the VA and grouped the allegations with past stories citing unnamed officials that the president has dismissed as fake news and hoaxes.
“I think anonymous are the same people that brought you fake heart attacks, fake strokes, Russian collusion,” Wilkie told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”
“I see the proof in the pudding,” he added. “The proof in the pudding is our military is stronger, and our Veterans Affairs Department is in a place that it has never been. This is the renaissance, and it’s all because of one man.”
Wilkie downplayed Trump’s past comments toward McCain, whom the president in 2015 said was not a war hero, as “politics” in the “heat of a campaign.” Trump, however, was running for president while McCain was seeking reelection in the Senate.