President Donald Trump trashed the character and reputation of retired Marine Gen. John Kelly Friday, suggesting that Kelly was a possible source of a damaging story -- one alleging that Trump routinely disparaged the military and called troops "suckers" and "losers" for volunteering to serve.
Trump also ripped the performance of Kelly as White House Chief of Staff, charging that he was not up to the job and was burned out to the point where he had to be told to resign.
"Now he goes out and badmouths me," Trump said of Kelly, saying the former commander of I Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq may have been one of the anonymous sources in a story in The Atlantic by editor Jeffrey Goldberg. The story painted a picture of a commander in chief incapable of appreciating the sacrifices of the military.
Trump said he didn't know for sure if Kelly was a source, but "it could've been a guy like a John Kelly."
"I know John Kelly, he was with me -- didn't do a good job," Trump said in an outburst at the end of a White House news conference mainly on the economy.
"He had no temperament, and ultimately he was petered out. He was exhausted, this man was totally exhausted," Trump continued about the 70-year-old Kelly, a 46-year veteran who began service in the enlisted ranks and earned two Legions of Merit with Combat "V" device.
"He was sort of a tough guy, but in time he got eaten up in this world. It's a different world than he was used to. He was unable to function. And I told him, 'John, you're gonna have to go. Please give me a letter of resignation,'" Trump said.
There was no immediate response to requests for comment from Kelly, who left the White House in January 2019.
At the news conference, Trump repeatedly called the Atlantic story a "hoax," likening it to the allegations against him that led to his impeachment by the House and ultimate acquittal by the Senate.
Several current and former White House aides supported Trump's contention that the story was more "fake news." The Washington Post, The Associated Press and Fox News all report they have confirmed claims made in The Atlantic's reporting.
Citing anonymous sources, the magazine piece alleged that Trump balked at going to the Aisne-Marne cemetery for U.S. troops killed in World War I while on a trip to Paris in 1918.
"Why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers," Trump allegedly said.
He also allegedly referred to Marines who fell in the battle of Belleau Wood as "suckers" for getting killed.
Trump disputed that and several other claims made in the story on Friday, saying he insisted on visiting the cemetery in France, but the weather and Secret Service personnel prohibited it.
"They had a rainstorm, the likes of which you rarely see," Trump said. "The fog was so great -- it was as dense as I've ever seen. I almost knew that you couldn't use the helicopter. And because they had a drive through I guess certain parts of Paris, Secret Service ... said, 'Nope.'"
Trump, according to The Atlantic, was also reportedly incapable of understanding how troops would be willing to risk their lives without the promise of gaining anything in return more than pride of serving and defending the nation.
On a Memorial Day visit in 2017 to Arlington National Cemetery with Kelly, whose Marine son Robert, a first lieutenant, was killed serving in Afghanistan in 2010, Trump allegedly turned to Kelly before the gravesites and said, "I don't get it. What was in it for them?"
Trump was also reported to have asked to keep wounded warriors out of military parades, according to the magazine, "on the grounds that spectators would feel uncomfortable in the presence of amputees."
"Nobody wants to see that," Trump allegedly said.
Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin tweeted that a source confirmed the claim on Friday, saying the president said including wounded warriors in a parade is "not a good look" and that "Americans don't like that."
Trump also allegedly called the late Sen. John McCain, who spent more than five years facing torture as a prisoner during the Vietnam War, and former President George H.W. Bush, who'd been shot down during World War II, "losers," in The Atlantic report. As a presidential candidate in 2015, Trump famously said that McCain was no war hero, adding, "I like people who weren't captured."
A former senior administration official confirmed to the Washington Post on Thursday that the president "frequently made disparaging comments about veterans and soldiers missing in action, referring to them at times as 'losers.'"
When asked again on Friday about his feelings on McCain, Trump said he "wasn't a fan."
"I disagreed with John McCain on a lot of things," Trump said. "That doesn't mean I don't respect him. I respect him, but I really disagreed with him on a lot of things."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.