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Trump scrambles to recover from report that he called fallen troops ‘losers’

President Donald Trump and his aides are scrambling to contain the fallout from reports that he made denigrating remarks about U.S. service members and America’s war dead, as Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden went on the offensive against a newly embattled White House.

Addressing reporters in the Oval Office, Trump again attacked The Atlantic for its account of him allegedly calling fallen Marines “losers” and “suckers,” and sought to defuse the escalating controversy.

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“It’s a fake story written by a magazine that was probably not going to be around much longer,” Trump said. “But it was a totally fake story, and that was confirmed by many people who were actually there. It was a terrible thing that somebody could say the kind of things, and especially to me, because I’ve done more for the military than almost anybody else.”

Trump’s latest repudiation of The Atlantic report came hours after top Biden surrogates denounced the president in a press call — seizing upon a potential inflection point in a general election campaign that in recent days has left the Democratic nominee emphasizing his opposition to violence at protests against racial injustice and police brutality.

On Friday, however, it was Trump who found himself playing defense, having to explain his support for the military less than two months from an election in which he will rely on a political base of voters made up of a disproportionately high percentage of veterans.

“There’s nobody that considers the military, and especially people that have given their lives in the military — to me, they’re heroes. To me, they’re heroes,” Trump said. “It’s even hard to believe how they could do it.”

Biden and his campaign quickly pounced. The former vice president, who had been scheduled to give a speech on the economy in Delaware on Friday afternoon, instead spent much of the event rebuking Trump.

“I’ve just never been as disappointed in my whole career with a leader that I’ve worked with, president or otherwise,” Biden said. “If the article is true, and it appears to be based on the things he said, it is absolutely damnable. It is a disgrace.”

Earlier Friday morning, during the Biden campaign call, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth said she was “appalled” by The Atlantic’s report, which alleged that Trump canceled a planned 2018 visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris because the rainy weather would dishevel his hair and the burial ground was “filled with losers.”

But Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran and Purple Heart recipient, also acknowledged she was “not shocked to hear yet more instances of Donald Trump belittling the sacrifices of those who have shown more bravery than he’s capable of.”

“This is a man who spends every day redefining the concept of narcissism. A man who’s met a life of privilege, with everything handed to him on a silver platter,” said Duckworth, who lost both legs when the Blackhawk helicopter she was co-piloting was shot by Iraqi insurgents in 2004.

“Of course he thinks about war selfishly. He thinks of it as a transactional cost instead of in human lives and American blood spilled, because that’s how he’s viewed his whole life. He doesn’t understand other people’s bravery and courage because he’s never had any of his own.”

The Atlantic’s account was subsequently corroborated in part by news outlets including The Associated Press and The Washington Post, which reported other explosive allegations about the president’s perception of the nation’s military.

For example, Trump was mystified as to why the U.S. government placed value on finding soldiers who were missing in action because he believed “they had performed poorly and gotten caught and deserved what they got,” according to the Post.

Duckworth homed in on another detail from The Atlantic’s report: the president’s request during a 2018 White House planning meeting for a military parade that the celebratory event not include wounded veterans such as amputees. “Nobody wants to see that,” Trump allegedly said.

Duckworth insisted that Trump’s remarks do not “diminish the sacrifices of wounded soldiers who gave up their limbs like I did for all Americans, including him.”

“The American people know that no one should be ashamed of a disability and that wounded warriors should be honored instead of hidden from view. I’d take my wheelchair and my titanium legs over Donald Trump’s supposed bone spurs any day,” she said, referring to the medical exemption that granted Trump a deferment from being drafted into military service during the Vietnam War.

Also featured on the Biden campaign call was Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father whose son was killed in Iraq in 2004 and who has feuded with Trump since addressing the Democratic National Convention in 2016. On Friday, however, he leveled what appeared to be his most forceful and personal rebuke of the president yet.

“Words matter. The words we say are a window into our souls — of how we see the world and our place in it,” Khan said. “When Donald Trump calls anyone who places their life in service of others a ‘loser,’ we understand Trump’s soul. By his accounting, self-sacrifice does not make sense. Love does not make sense. According to Trump, the winners in life are those that put themselves before all and the losers are those that don’t. What kind of soul this man has.”

Khan went on to describe Trump’s life as a “testament to selfishness,” contending that the president is “incapable of understanding service, valor and courage. His soul cannot conceive of integrity and honor. And let me say very loudly and clearly so America can listen: His soul is that of a coward.”

Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb, a Marine veteran and the final Biden surrogate to participate in Friday’s press call, was more reluctant to discuss Trump’s reported remarks, instead explaining the historical and symbolic significance of the Battle of Belleau Wood to the U.S. Marine Corps.

Many of the Marines killed in that battle are buried at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, which Trump declined to visit in 2018, and the three-week World War I conflict is widely regarded as “if not the most, certainly one of the most important battles in Marine Corps history,” according to the congressman.

“That battle and that burial ground deserve the utmost respect and veneration to any American,” Lamb said, but “for a president to pass up the opportunity to pay his respect at that site, it’s just a tragedy regardless of what was said or wasn’t said. We know that he was not there — that he did not take the time to go there, visit those Marines and honor people with his presence like he could have.”


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