A bombshell story has claimed US President Donald Trump privately called fallen American soldiers “losers” and “suckers” during a trip to France in 2018.
The trip we’re talking about here marked the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I.
While he was staying in Paris, Mr Trump famously cancelled a planned visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery – where he had been scheduled to lay a wreath and observe a moment of silence – because of weather conditions.
The cemetery stands at the site of the Battle of Belleau Wood, where more than 1800 US marines died stopping a German push towards Paris in 1918.
Today The Atlantic published a story detailing a number of comments Mr Trump allegedly made behind the scenes. One of those remarks came during a conversation with his senior staff on the morning of the scheduled visit to Aisne-Marne Cemetery.
“Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers,” the US President reportedly said.
During a different conversation on the same trip, Mr Trump reportedly referred to the fallen marines from Belleau Wood as “suckers”.
The story includes other remarks from the President, which we’ll get to in a moment, but first let’s be clear about where the information is coming from.
The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, cites four anonymous sources “with first-hand knowledge” of Mr Trump’s remarks.
Shortly after the story was published, AP investigative reporter James LaPorta, a former marine infantryman, said he had confirmed Goldberg’s story “in its entirety” with an anonymous “senior Defence Department” official.
The White House, meanwhile, says it is completely untrue.
“This report is false. President Trump holds the military in the highest regard,” spokeswoman Alyssa Farah told The Atlantic.
“He’s demonstrated his commitment to them at every turn, delivering on his promise to give our troops a much-needed pay raise, increasing military spending, signing critical veterans reforms and supporting military spouses.
“This (story) has no basis in fact.”
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany responded to Goldberg’s story on Twitter, labelling it “garbage”.
So there’s your context. It’s an anonymously sourced story, and it has been explicitly denied by the White House. On the other hand, another reporter has confirmed it.
We also need to talk about Goldberg’s first two paragraphs, which allege Mr Trump “rejected the idea” of visiting the cemetery for unsavoury reasons.
“When President Donald Trump cancelled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris on 2018, he blamed rain for the last-minute decision, saying that the ‘helicopter couldn’t fly’ and that the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him there. Neither claim was true,” he writes.
“Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honour American war dead.”
Buzzfeed reporter Jason Leopold has previously obtained Navy documents confirming the President’s flight on Marine One was cancelled due to the weather conditions.
The visit’s cancellation was also referenced in former White House national security adviser John Bolton’s recent memoir.
“Marine One’s crew was saying that bad visibility could make it imprudent to chopper to the cemetery. The ceiling was not too low for marines to fly in combat, but flying POTUS was obviously something very different,” Mr Bolton – no fan of the President – wrote.
He also provided an explanation for why Mr Trump was not driven to the cemetery instead.
“If a motorcade were necessary, it could take between 90 and 120 minutes each way, along roads that were not exactly freeways, posing an unacceptable risk that we could not get the President out of France quickly enough in case of an emergency.
“It was a straightforward decision to cancel the visit.”
OK, what else does the story allege?
On Memorial Day in 2017, Mr Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery with his then-future (and now former) White House chief of staff, retired marine general John Kelly.
Gen Kelly’s son Robert was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, and is buried at Arlington. Standing next to his grave, Mr Trump reportedly turned to Gen Kelly and said: “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”
The source Goldberg cites for this, again anonymously, is described as “one of Kelly’s friends” and a retired four-star general.
That source told The Atlantic Mr Trump’s comment summed up the President’s world view, and his inability to understand why someone would sign up for military service.
“He can’t fathom the idea of doing something for someone other than himself,” they said.
“He just thinks that anyone who does anything when there’s no direct personal gain to be had is a sucker. There’s no money in serving the nation.
“Trump can’t imagine anyone else’s pain. That’s why he would say this to the father of a fallen marine on Memorial Day.”
In 2018, as the White House planned a military parade, Mr Trump reportedly asked his staff not to include wounded veterans, saying viewers would not want to look at amputees.
“Nobody wants to see that,” he allegedly said.
Goldberg cites three sources who claim Mr Trump twice referred to former president and navy pilot George H.W. Bush, who died in 2018, as a “loser” because he was shot down during World War II.
Republican senator John McCain, another former navy pilot, also died in 2018 after a battle with brain cancer.
Mr Trump had feuded with Mr McCain for years. Their loathing for one another went back to 2015, when Mr Trump publicly took issue with people describing Mr McCain as a war hero.
“He’s not a war hero. He’s a hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured,” Mr Trump said at the time.
Mr McCain was indeed shot down and captured during the Vietnam War in 1967.
He spent the next five years in a prisoner-of-war camp, where he was repeatedly tortured. Mr McCain, whose father was an admiral, refused to accept a deal that would have seen him released before his fellow prisoners.
According to Goldberg’s sources, Mr Trump erupted in the aftermath of Mr McCain’s death, when he found out America’s flags had been lowered to half-mast in honour of the late senator.
“What the f**k are we doing that for? Guy was a f***ing loser,” he reportedly said.
The President also said the administration was “not going to support that loser’s funeral”.
A few hours after the story was published, and after the White House’s official response, Mr Trump himself jumped on Twitter to deny having made those comments, saying he would swear to it “on whatever or whoever I was asked to swear on”.
I should note that Mr Trump’s assertion he “never called John a loser” is easily disproved, given he did exactly that publicly.
Speaking to the White House press corps after returning to Washington D.C. in the evening, the President repeated that he would be “willing to swear on anything” that he “never said that about our fallen heroes”.
“What animal would say such a thing?” he asked.
Mr Trump added that Goldberg’s sources were probably “a couple of people that have been failures in the administration that I got rid of”. Either that, or the story was “just made up”.
For the record, Mr McCain received a memorial service at Washington National Cathedral, with his casket draped in the American flag. That service was approved by Mr Trump.
Three former presidents, representing both major political parties, attended to pay their respects. Barack Obama and George W. Bush both delivered eulogies.
Mr Trump was not invited. He spent the day at one of his golf courses in Virginia, and his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner attended the service in his stead.
They watched from the audience as Mr McCain’s daughter, Meghan, used her eulogy to deliver an explicit rebuke of Mr Trump’s politics.
“The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again, because America was always great,” she said, clearly alluding to the President’s campaign slogan from 2016.
“We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness. The real thing, not cheap rhetoric who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who lived lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served.”
Mr Trump received repeated medical deferments for bone spurs in his foot, which prevented him from being drafted for the Vietnam War.
Ms McCain responded to The Atlantic’s story today by calling Mr Trump “vile and disgusting”.
Mr Obama’s eulogy at Mr McCain’s memorial service also included some pretty obvious swings at Mr Trump.
“So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse, can seem small and mean and petty. Trafficking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage,” the former president said.
“It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born in fear. John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that.”
Goldberg’s article has so far been met with silence by the United States’ current military brass, but it has provoked outrage from a number of retired officers.
General Mark Hertling, a Purple Heart recipient, described Mr Trump as “incredibly toxic” and said the President had “no understanding of service or sacrifice”.
General Michael Hayden, a frequent critic of Mr Trump, retweeted comments calling the President a “thoroughly despicable human being”. He pointed out that conservatives, including Mr Trump, had slammed NFL player Colin Kaepernick for “disrespecting” the US military by taking a knee during the national anthem in protest against police brutality.
General Paul Eaton posted a video online reacting furiously to the article.
“I’ve got to tell you, it was a tough read,” Gen Eaton said.
“You have the President of the United States call the American military ‘losers’ and ‘suckers’, particularly those who gave their lives.
“When he met with the (former) chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General (Joseph) Dunford, his comment was, ‘That’s a smart guy. Why is he in the military?’
“I’m pretty unhappy with you, Mr Trump. So I’m going to keep this short, for your famous short attention span.
“You have shown disrespect to the military on countless occasions. I am stunned that anyone in the United States military would consider you anything but a loser or a sucker.
“You’re no patriot.”
Gen Eaton held up a dog tag that belonged to his father, who died in the Vietnam War.
“My father was a patriot. Well-educated. He was a wise man. The best men and women in the United States of America are found in the armed forces,” he said.
“Brave men and women. They’re not just brave, they’re smart. And they’re wise.
“So, Mr Trump, come November 3, we’re all voting for a real patriot. Joe Biden. And everybody who hears this, please take notice, and please vote. Vote Democratic. Our country’s honour depends on it.”
Mr Trump’s election opponent, Mr Biden, also released a lengthy statement. The former vice president’s late son Beau served in the US army.
“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,” the former vice president said.
“Generations of American troops have shed blood around the world in defence of our freedoms and to protect US vital interests. From the front lines of our own revolution, to Belleau Wood, to the Normandy beaches, to the mountains of Afghanistan.
“The sacrifice and bravery of our troops and their willingness to serve our nation should be honoured. Duty, honour, country – those are the values that drive our service members. Those are the values that have formed the core of America’s defence for centuries.
“If I have the honour of serving as the next commander-in-chief, I will ensure that our American heroes know that I will have their back and honour their sacrifice.”