Trump's Secretary of Veterans Affairs defended the president's reported insults toward the military, saying it's just 'politics'

Associated PressVeterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie in the White House in April 2020.
  • Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie defended President Donald Trump after a bombshell report by The Atlantic said he called American World War I dead “losers” and dead Marines “suckers.”
  • Wilkie, a Trump appointee, said he did not believe the report and said that Trump had done good work for veterans.
  • When pressed by CNN over Trump reportedly calling Sen. John McCain – a former prisoner of war who died in 2018 – a “loser,” Wilkie said his comments were “politics” and “the heat of a campaign.”
  • Trump denied The Atlantic’s reporting – though some details have been confirmed by other outlets – and said he never called McCain a “loser,” though he has previously done so publicly.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie defended President Donald Trump’s reported comments about American soliders, claiming that Trump’s remarks about prisoners of war were “politics” and made in the “heat of the campaign.”

Wilkie was responding to a bombshell article by The Atlantic, which claimed that Trump cancelled a 2018 visit to a French cemetery housing fallen American soldiers from World War I to mark the end of the war because he did not believe it was important to go.

The White House blamed bad weather conditions at the time.

Trump claimed that the cemetery was “filled with losers” and separately said on the same trip that the US Marines who lost their lives in the war were “suckers,” The Atlantic reported.

According to the report, Trump also called Sen. John McCain — a Republican and a Navy veteran who spent more than five years as a prisoner in Vietnam — a “loser” after his 2018 death, saying: “We’re not going to support that loser’s funeral.”

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP PhotoThe memorial service for Sen. John McCain in September 2018.

Trump has forcefully denied making the comments, despite other outlets corroborating some details of The Atlantic’s report.

Wilkie also defended Trump to CNN, saying he had “absolutely not” heard Trump make disparaging comments about US service members, and that he did not believe Trump made the reported comments about Marines.

“I would be offended too if I thought it was true,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash.

He said that he supported Trump based on what he has done for veterans: “What I’m looking at is the Donald Trump I know. The Donald Trump who has turned around Veteran Affairs.”

He also dismissed Trump’s comments about McCain as just “politics.”

You can watch the interview here:

Wilkie said he “was a friend with John McCain” but understood that Trump’s comments are part of “name-calling” coming “from both sides.”

Bash then said that Trump’s comments insulted all prisoners of war, and asked: “Is that acceptable?”

Wilkie responded: “Well, it’s politics. It’s the heat of a campaign,” without specifying what campaign he was talking about.

“I judge a man by his actions,” Wilkie said, adding that McCain was “definitely” a war hero.

Trump nominated Wilkie to the role of Veterans Affairs secretary in 2018, after he served as acting secretary.

Trump press conferenceERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty ImagesPresident Donald Trump and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie at the White House in April 2020.

Despite Trump and Wilkie’s denials, other outlets have confirmed details from the Atlantic report.

Fox News’ national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin said on Friday that parts of the report were verified to her by two people who previously worked for the Trump administration.

In response, Trump tweeted a Breitbart News story that said Griffin had been able to confirm much of the story, but not that Trump called the dead soldiers “losers” and “suckers.” The president has also called for Griffin to be fired over her claims.

A former senior administration official confirmed to CNN that Trump referred to fallen US soldiers while using “crude and derogatory terms” during the trip.

Trump Paris cemetarySAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty ImagesUS President Donald Trump at the American Cemetery of Suresnes outside Paris in November 2018 as part of commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. He cancelled the other cemetery journey on his trip.

Many have also pointed to Trump’s public comments as evidence that the reporting is likely accurate.

In his denial of The Atlantic’s reporting, Trump said that he “was never a big fan” of McCain, but that he had “never called John a loser.”

But Trump described McCain as a loser in 2015 when talking about McCain’s capture at an Iowa summit.

“I like people who weren’t captured,” he said then. “I don’t like losers.”

At the time, he also tweeted a link to a political blog that quoted him calling McCain a loser at the event.

Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic and the author of the report, told CNN on Sunday: “I would fully expect more reporting to come out about this and more confirmation and new pieces of information in the coming days and weeks.”

He said: “We have a responsibility and we’re going to do it regardless of what he says.”

He also defended his use of anonymous sources in the reporting, saying: “We all have to use anonymous sources, especially in a climate where the president of the United States tries to actively intimidate.”

“These are not people who are anonymous to me.”

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