President Donald Trump denied making disparaging remarks about U.S. Military service members on Monday, during an off-script press conference. The president seemed to be speaking freely on Labor Day when he offered a fresh denial of reports that he has privately demeaned the members of the military, which circulated last week. He told reporters: "Only an animal would say a thing like that."
"It's a disgrace, who would say a thing like that?" Trump asked the assembled reporters. "Only an animal would say a thing like that. There's nobody that has more respect for not only our military, but for people that gave their lives for our military..." The president then interrupted himself to address the silence of his former chief of staff and four-star general John Kelly. He said: "—and I think John Kelly knows that, I think he knows that from me."
"Only an animal would say things like that" -- Trump denies reports he disparaged fallen US troops pic.twitter.com/5PFxTjkh29— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 7, 2020
Last week, a report by The Atlantic cited numerous Trump administration sources — some high-ranking — who said that Trump has impugned the intelligence and honor of U.S. Military service members on multiple occasions in front of them. This included disrespecting wounded veterans, mocking fallen soldiers' gravesites and referring to U.S. Marines as "losers" and "suckers."
A separate report by Fox News later confirmed many of these quotes, though Trump has repeatedly denied them. Meanwhile, Kelly has declined to speak up for either side, though he worked closely with Trump as his chief of staff for about a year and a half. Kelly's unceremonious dismissal from the White House was mired in mystery at the end of 2018.
Even while defending himself against these allegations this week, Trump insulted Kelly yet again. On Friday, when a reporter asked why Kelly wasn't defending Trump, Trump answered by suggesting that Kelly did not have the toughness to survive Washington politics.
"I know John Kelly. He was with me — didn't do a good job. Had no temperament. And ultimately was petered out. He was exhausted," Trump said. "This man was totally exhausted. He wasn't even able to function in the last number of months. He was not able to function. He was sort of a tough guy. By the time he got eaten up in this world, he was unable to function."
Reporters from The New York Times spoke to sources close to Kelly, who said that the general is staying out of this argument because he does not want his words politicized. However, other military leaders have condemned Trump since The Atlantic article was published.