He asserted that while U.S. troops largely support him, he does not receive the same affinity from the top. He made the comment as he advocated for the removal of American troops from “endless wars” and lambasted NATO allies who “rip us off.”
The remarks come after The Atlantic reported that Trump disparaged American troops as “suckers” and “losers” for dying in battle. The article, which has been corroborated by a number of news outlets, sent shock waves through Washington. Trump and his surrogates denied the story with vehemence rarely seen from the White House.
During his Monday news conference, Trump repeated those denials, saying that “only an animal would say a thing like that.”
The Atlantic report also said Trump made dismissive remarks while visiting the grave of John Kelly’s son at Arlington National Cemetery. Kelly was Trump’s chief of staff at the time and is a retired Marine general. He was ousted from his White House post in January 2019, and Trump has since routinely disparaged Kelly as incapable.
Kelly has yet to publicly comment on the Atlantic story. When asked Monday whether he had asked Kelly to refute the story, Trump said no. He also said that nobody respects the military more than he does, and that “I think John Kelly knows that.”
“I have nothing against John,” Trump added later, even though he criticized Kelly as recently last week as “exhausted” and “unable to handle the pressure” of his job.
The White House later elaborated on Trump‘s comments, saying that a number of politicians and Pentagon officials had been unwilling to pull out of the United States’ “endless“ wars and that Trump stood with soldiers and generals who want to end those conflicts.
The Defense Department deferred to the White House when asked for comment.
The event took place outdoors, in the unusual setting of the White House North Portico, on a relatively mild summer holiday. But Trump’s tone was hardly calm and breezy, with a particular impatience in his voice as he sparred with reporters and hit at his adversaries. He called his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, “stupid” and went on lengthy tirades against China, NATO countries and the so-called Steele dossier.
At one point, he got into a heated back-and-forth with Jeff Mason of Reuters, trying to get the reporter to take off his mask. Mason refused, and Trump huffed in frustration.
Several of Trump’s points seemed to reflect major news stories that published over the weekend, including a New York Times deep dive into Biden’s history on China. The story contrasts Biden’s cautious optimism at the turn of the millennium toward the then-budding world player with the more critical recent stance of the former vice president toward China’s economic and human rights abuses.
But Trump cast the report as exposing Biden as a China supporter — a character in a globalist system zapping jobs away from American workers.
“With Biden, he shipped away our jobs, threw open our borders and sent our youth to fight in these crazy endless wars,” Trump said.
The president also claimed that China was using American investments to bolster its own war machine and decried its treatment by the World Trade Organization, asserting that it gets preferential treatment as a developing country.
“We are treated as a nation that is fully developed. We are not fully developed, as far as I’m concerned,” Trump said, citing anti-racism protests that have erupted over the summer in cities across the country. (The United Nations lists the U.S. as the 15th most developed country on earth.)
Trump also responded to a Washington Post investigation that alleged that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy had pressured employees at his former logistics company to donate to Republican campaigns. The Post article said DeJoy reimbursed the employees with bonuses, which would amount to illegally using employees as fundraising surrogates.
When asked whether he was open to starting an investigation into DeJoy, Trump said, “Sure,” though he said he wasn’t aware of the details of the allegations. When asked whether DeJoy should be fired if an investigation found that he had violated campaign finance law, Trump said, “Yeah.”
“If something can be proven that he did something wrong, always,” Trump said.
He ended the news conference by again criticizing China for failing to contain the coronavirus, then wished reporters a happy Labor Day.