WASHINGTON (WTVO) — President Donald Trump defended himself Friday against accusations that he mocked American war dead as his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, intensified efforts to frame the election as a referendum on the president’s character.
The allegations, sourced anonymously in The Atlantic, describe multiple offensive comments by the president toward fallen and captured U.S. service-members, including calling World War I dead at an American military cemetery in France as “losers” and “suckers” in 2018.
“This is more made up Fake News given by disgusting & jealous failures in a disgraceful attempt to influence the 2020 Election!” Trump tweeted late Thursday, as aides mounted a concerted defense of the president, with Trump’s campaign and allies taking to social media and broadcast interviews to denounce the report.
“I’ve done more for the military than almost anyone else,” he added Friday in the Oval Office.
The president was alleged to have made the comments as he was set to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery during a trip to France in Nov. 2018. The White House said the visit was scrubbed because foggy weather made the helicopter trip from Paris too risky and the 90-minute drive deemed infeasible.
Trump, who traveled to Pennsylvania on Thursday, told reporters after he returned to Washington that the Atlantic report was “a disgraceful situation” by a “terrible magazine.”
“I would be willing to swear on anything that I never said that about our fallen heroes,” Trump told the reporters, gathered on the tarmac in the dark. “There is nobody that respects them more. No animal — nobody — what animal would say such a thing?”
“It’s sad the depths that people will go to during a lead-up to a presidential campaign to try to smear somebody,” said White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows Thursday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told “Fox & Friends” on Friday that he was with the president for a good part of the trip to France. “I never heard him use the words that are described in that article,” Pompeo said.
Lt. General Keith Kellog (Ret.), the National Security Advisor for Vice President Pence wrote on Twitter, “The Atlantic story is completely false. Absolutely lacks merit. 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.”
White House Senior Adviser Steven Miller said the story was a “despicable lie” in an interview witht The Washington Examiner, saying ““The president deeply wanted to attend the memorial event in question and was deeply displeased by the bad weather call. The next day, he spoke at Suresnes American Cemetery in the pouring rain and refused an umbrella. No one has a bigger, more loving, or more loyal heart for American veterans and fallen heroes than our president.”
Jordan Karem, a personal aide to Trump, wrote on Twitter to say, “This is not even close to being factually accurate. Plain and simple, it never happened.”
“Again, this is 100% false,” Karem added. “I was next to @POTUS the whole day! The President was greatly disappointed when told we couldn’t fly there. He was incredibly eager to honor our Fallen Heroes.”
Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted that she was part of the discussion about visiting the cemetery. “This never happened. I have sat in the room when our President called family members after their sons were killed in action and it was heart-wrenching. … I am disgusted by this false attack.”
Former Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley also took to Twitter in defense of the President, saying “These are disgusting, grotesque, reprehensible lies. I was there in Paris and the President never said those things. In fact, he would never even think such vile thoughts because I know from firsthand knowledge that President Trump absolutely loves, respects, and reveres the brave men and women of the United States military. He always has and always will. These weak, pathetic, cowardly background ‘sources’ do not have the courage or decency to put their names to these false accusations because they know how completely ludicrous they are. It’s sickening that they would hide in the shadows to knowingly try and hurt the morale of our great military simply for an attack on a political opponent.”
White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications, Dan Scavino, wrote: “I was with POTUS in France, with Sarah, and have been at his side throughout it all. Complete lies by ‘anonymous sources’ that were ‘dropped’ just as he begins to campaign (and surge). A disgraceful attempt to smear POTUS, 60 days before the Presidential Election! Disgusting!!”
Biden said that “if the revelations in today’s Atlantic article are 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.”
“Duty, honor, country — those are the values that drive our service members,” Biden said in a statement Thursday night, adding that if he is elected president, “I will ensure that our American heroes know that I will have their back and honor their sacrifice — always.” Biden’s son Beau served in Iraq in 2008-09.
Trump also denied calling the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, a decorated Navy officer who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, a “loser” after his Aug. 2018 death.
Trump acknowledged Thursday he was “never a fan” of McCain and disagreed with him, but said he still respected him and approved everything to do with his “first-class triple-A funeral” without hesitation because “I felt he deserved it.”
In 2015, shortly after launching his presidential candidacy, Trump publicly blasted McCain, saying “He’s not a war hero.” He added, “I like people who weren’t captured.” At the time, Trump also shared a news article on Twitter calling McCain a “loser.”
Trump only amplified his criticism of McCain as the Arizona lawmaker grew critical of his acerbic style of politics, culminating in a late-night “no” vote scuttling Trump’s plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That vote shattered what few partisan loyalties bound the two men, and Trump has continued to attack McCain for that vote, even posthumously.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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