2024 Election Updates: Latest Biden and Trump News

Former President Donald J. Trump has again denied denouncing service members as “losers” and “suckers” after a Biden campaign ad highlighted critical comments he reportedly made of the military.

The ad highlights nine derogatory remarks Mr. Trump has made about service members, including calling them “losers” and “suckers.” Most of the reported quotes occurred in private conversations, and whether or not Mr. Trump actually made them is in dispute.

Mr. Trump, at a campaign rally on Sunday in Las Vegas and on social media, called the claims “disinformation” and “made up out of thin air.”

The Biden campaign, in the ad, cited a 2020 article in The Atlantic about Mr. Trump’s remarks for a majority of the quotations. The story relied on anonymous sources, but many of the accounts have been corroborated by other news outlets, including The New York Times, and by John F. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general who served as Mr. Trump’s White House chief of staff.

Mr. Trump, for his part, has repeatedly and emphatically denied making those remarks since the article was published in September 2020, telling reporters then: “For somebody to say the things that they say I said is a total lie. It’s fake news. It’s a disgrace.”

Other comments quoted in the campaign ad were audio snippets of Mr. Trump himself or attributed to a Democratic congresswoman. Two of these quotes omitted context that would give a different impression of Mr. Trump’s comments.

Here’s a breakdown of the quotations.

Remarks from The Atlantic are anonymously attributed, but corroborated

Five of the quotations in the Biden campaign ad were reported in The Atlantic in 2020.

The article begins with an account of Mr. Trump’s decision during a 2018 trip to France to forgo a planned visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, where American soldiers are buried. At the time, Mr. Trump and his aides said that rain had necessitated canceling the helicopter ride to the cemetery, but his absence was criticized at home and abroad.

But according to The Atlantic, that was not true. Rather, Mr. Trump was worried that the weather would mess up his hair and did not think the trip was important. The Atlantic reported that in private conversations, Mr. Trump had said: “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers,” and called the soldiers buried there “suckers” for being killed.

The Atlantic also reported that while standing by the grave of Robert Kelly, Mr. Kelly’s son who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010, Mr. Trump had asked: “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”

And according to The Atlantic, after receiving a briefing from Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mr. Trump also asked aides: “That guy is smart. Why did he join the military?”

Lastly, The Atlantic reported that when Senator John McCain, one of Mr. Trump’s few Republican critics, died in 2018, Mr. Trump said, “We’re not going to support that loser’s funeral.”

The Washington Post and Jennifer Griffin, the chief national security reporter for Fox News, confirmed that Mr. Trump had privately disparaged veterans and soldiers. The Post reported that Mr. Trump had called people who served in the Vietnam War “losers” while Ms. Griffin reported that Mr. Trump used the term “sucker” and asked, “What’s in it for them?”

John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, told The Times that he did not personally hear Mr. Trump use those words on the 2018 trip but that the reported comments were not out of character.

Mr. Kelly confirmed in 2023 that Mr. Trump had used the terms “suckers” and “losers” to describe wounded soldiers and those who were killed or missing in action.

Mr. Kelly also said that Mr. Trump did not want to stand next to military amputees because “it doesn’t look good for me.” (The Biden ad attributed this particular quote to The Atlantic. The article quotes Mr. Trump saying, while asking his staff to omit wounded veterans from military parades, “Nobody wants to see that.”)

Mr. Trump has publicly called Mr. McCain a “loser” on social media and in a 2015 event. And Miles Taylor, who was chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security at the time, told The Times that Mr. Trump was unhappy that flags were lowered to half-staff when the senator died. (Mr. Trump was not invited to Mr. McCain’s funeral.)

A Democratic congresswoman’s quotation has also been corroborated

The Biden campaign ad also includes one remark from Representative Frederica S. Wilson, Democrat of Florida.

In October 2017, Mr. Trump spoke on the phone with the widow of Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed in Niger. According Ms. Wilson, who was accompanying the widow, Mr. Trump said to Myeshia Johnson, “I guess he knew what he was signing up for, but it still hurts.”

The Biden ad omitted the second part of that quote, Mr. Trump’s attempt at empathizing with the widow: “But it still hurts.”

Mr. Trump also denied making this remark, and claimed he had “proof.” His press secretary at the time said that the call was not recorded but confirmed his account.

But Ms. Johnson soon corroborated Ms. Wilson’s account and said that Mr. Trump condolence call made her angry and upset her even more, especially as he struggled to remember her husband’s name. Sergeant Johnson’s mother also backed up Ms. Wilson’s account.

Trump’s own words

The Biden campaign ad includes audio of Mr. Trump speaking at several events.

In one widely reported 2015 event, Mr. Trump said of Mr. McCain: “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

The comments kicked off a storm of criticism, and Mr. Trump defended his remarks at the time by misleadingly claiming that he had agreed four times that Mr. McCain was a hero.

The ad also includes — and omits important context from — audio snippets from a 2016 campaign rally: “He handed me his Purple Heart” and “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.”

In a 2016 rally in Ashburn, Va., Mr. Trump recounted the enthusiasm of his crowds and gave as an example “something very nice” that had “just happened to me.” A man gave him his Purple Heart, Mr. Trump said, and told him “I have such confidence in you.” His joke about obtaining the Purple Heart, the medal given to soldiers wounded or killed in action, in this easier fashion was met with applause and laughter.

Mr. Trump added that “it was such an honor,” which the Biden campaign ad omitted.

At the time, the comment and Mr. Trump’s acceptance of the medal ignited more controversy. A spokesman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart said recipients are entitled to give them away, but he said that owning one without having earned it was an act of stolen valor.

The recipient of the Purple Heart later said that he gave Mr. Trump the medal because he thought Mr. Trump would make a great commander in chief and he wanted to remind him of “all the people that have fought and died for this country.”



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