U.S. President Donald Trump refused to pay tribute to fallen American soldiers at a First World War cemetery in Paris in 2018, complaining about the rain and dismissing the dead as “losers” and “suckers,” according to multiple reports.
Trump also reportedly griped about funeral ceremonies for former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, whom the president described as a “f—ing loser” after his death in August 2018.
The president’s disparaging comments were first reported in The Atlantic, which cited four witnesses to his cemetery comments and three sources who heard his comments about McCain’s funeral. Since the Atlantic article’s publication, multiple sources have confirmed Trump’s “loser” comments to the Associated Press and The Washington Post, while remaining anonymous to protect themselves from reprisal.
The White House and the president have denied the reports.
Trump attacked the Atlantic as a “dying” magazine on Friday morning. “They make up a fake story in order to gain some relevance,” he tweeted. “You fight and and (sic) fight, and then people realize it was a total fraud!”
Trump was supposed to visit Aisne-Marne American Cemetery during his trip to Paris in November 2018, when he was to lay a wreath for some 1,800 U.S. soldiers who died in the Battle of Belleau Wood during the First World War. The White House cancelled the visit and cited weather at the time, prompting many to criticize Trump for seemingly giving up on a solemn duty due to rain.
“Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers,” Trump said when he cancelled the visit, according to witnesses who spoke to The Atlantic. He also expressed concern that the weather might mess up his hair.
In a separate conversation, Trump reportedly described the fallen Marines as “suckers” for getting killed, and questioned why the U.S. stuck its neck out to help the Allies during the war.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron braved the raindrops that same day to pay tribute at their respective war memorials.
The Atlantic also reports that Trump was furious about funeral arrangements for McCain, the Arizona senator who frequently criticized the president and spiked his attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
“We’re not going to support that loser’s funeral,” Trump reportedly told his senior staff in August 2018. The Atlantic reports that he was enraged to see flags flying at half-staff for the former GOP presidential candidate following his death.
“What the f— are we doing that for? Guy was a f—ing loser,” Trump reportedly told his aides.
Trump was not invited to McCain’s funeral.
A former senior administration official confirmed Trump’s attitude toward fallen soldiers in an interview with the Washington Post. They said Trump would frequently describe soldiers who went missing in action as “losers.” He also wondered why the U.S. government would try so hard to get them back, and suggested that they deserved what they got.
The president angrily denied the reports in a Twitter thread late Thursday.
“I never called our great fallen soldiers anything other than HEROES,” he tweeted.
Trump added that he was “never a big fan of John McCain,” but claimed credit for approving his “first class funeral.”
“I felt it was well deserved. I even sent Air Force One to bring his body, in casket, from Arizona to Washington. It was my honor to do so. Also, I never called John a loser.”
Miles Taylor, a former Trump-appointed staffer at the Department of Homeland Security, confirmed the story about the flags in a tweet on Friday morning, saying that Trump’s denials were “not true.”
“You were angry that DHS notified federal buildings to lower the flags for Sen. McCain,” Taylor tweeted. “I would know because your staff called and told me.”
Trump has a long history of publicly supporting the military and veterans, but he feuded in the past with McCain, who was a Vietnam War vet, and once picked a fight with the family of a fallen U.S. soldier. He has also refused to publicly call out Russia in recent months for offering bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
McCain was serving in the U.S. Navy when his plane was shot down over enemy territory during the Vietnam War. He was badly injured in the crash and then captured by the Vietcong, who held him and tortured him as a prisoner of war for over five years.
Trump avoided the draft for that same war, citing “bone spurs” in his heels.
He infamously mocked McCain’s PoW experience during an interview in 2015, before he won the GOP’s presidential nomination.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said at the time. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
Trump has also publicly attacked the family of Humayun Khan, a U.S. Army captain who was killed by a car bomb in Iraq in 2004. The captain’s father, Khizr Khan, delivered a speech criticizing Trump at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, prompting Trump to fire back with an Islamophobic comment.
“If you look at his wife, she was standing there, she had nothing to say, she probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say, you tell me,” Trump said.
The Atlantic story included several other anecdotes about Trump’s allegedly disrespectful attitude toward the military. He once asked that amputees be left out of a military event at the White House because “nobody wants to see that,” according to the report. He also reportedly made an insensitive comment while standing alongside Gen. John Kelly, his then-secretary of homeland security, at Kelly’s son’s grave. The younger Kelly was a Marine who was killed in Afghanistan.
“I don’t get it,” Trump reportedly said to Kelly at the time.
“What was in it for them?” Trump asked, referring to soldiers who volunteered for U.S. military service.
The Atlantic also cited three anonymous sources in reporting Trump’s comments about John McCain.
The White House has denied the Atlantic report as false.
“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.
Hogan Gidley, Trump’s national press secretary, also dismissed the allegations as “lies,” saying that he was with Trump during the Paris visit and heard none of the comments in the Atlantic story.
Sarah Sanders, who was Trump’s press secretary in 2018, also rejected the report as “B.S.”
The Atlantic is the same outlet that published a blistering essay earlier this year by James Mattis, a four-star Marine Corps general and Trump’s former Secretary of Defense. Mattis spoke out against Trump after his former boss used military forces to clear peaceful protesters away from the White House for a photo-op at a church.
Mattis blasted Trump for ordering military troops to “violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens” so they could “provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”
Mattis also pointed out that the Nazi slogan during the Second World War was “Divide and Conquer.”
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try,” Mattis wrote. “Instead he tries to divide us.”
John McCain’s daughter, Meghan, described the pain of seeing the Atlantic report on Thursday night.
“It rips off new layers of grief that wreak havoc on my life,” she tweeted.
“No one is more acutely aware of how vile and disgusting Trump has been to my family, it is still hard to understand,” she wrote.
“America knows who this man is.”
— With files from The Associated Press