The New York Times Company
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump confronted a crisis Friday that could undercut badly needed support in the military community for his reelection campaign as he sought to dispute a report that he privately referred to U.S. soldiers killed in combat as “losers” and “suckers.”
Trump came under intense fire from Democrats and other opponents who said a report in The Atlantic demonstrated his actual contempt for those who serve their country in uniform.
Speaking with reporters next to Air Force One after returning from a campaign rally Thursday night, Trump heatedly denied making the comments, as reported by the magazine.
“If people really exist that would have said that, they’re lowlifes and they’re liars,” Trump shouted above the noise of the plane’s engines. “And I would be willing to swear on anything that I never said that about our fallen heroes. There is nobody that respects them more.”
On Friday, John Bolton, his former national security adviser, said he was on the trip in question and never heard Trump make those remarks.
The report by The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, said that Trump decided against visiting a cemetery for U.S. soldiers killed in World War I during a 2018 visit to France because the rain would have mussed his hair and because he did not believe it was important to honor the war dead.
The article attributed the episode to “four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day,” but did not name them. During a conversation with senior officials that day, according to the magazine, Trump said: “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” On the same trip, the article said, he referred to American Marines slain in combat at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, issued a statement condemning the president and saying it demonstrated that Trump was not fit for the office.
A half-dozen current and former aides to Trump backed him up with Twitter messages disputing the Atlantic article. “I was actually there and one of the people part of the discussion — this never happened,” wrote Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was then the White House press secretary. “This is not even close to being factually accurate,” added Jordan Karem, the president’s personal aide at the time.