President Donald Trump took aim at his former chief of staff, John Kelly, on Friday evening for not coming to his aid amid reports that he has frequently disparaged the U.S. Military. While he denied the story that he called soldiers killed in action "losers" and "suckers," he demeaned Kelly's strength and his abilities. He also alluded to his belief that Kelly was one of the anonymous sources responsible for the report.
Trump has been taking fire all week for a new story in The Atlantic, were multiple sources said that Trump often impugns the intelligence and honor of U.S. military service members. Trump denied all these allegations in a White House press conference on Friday and lashed out at Kelly — a four-star general — for declining to defend him. Kelly served as Trump's chief of staff from July of 2017 until January of 2019, but reportedly left as his influence within the administration was dwindling. Reporters asked Trump why a military professional like Kelly would not speak on his behalf amid the new scandal.
"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."
Trump then claimed to have new details on Kelly's departure from the White House, which was previously mired in mystery. The president said: "I told him, 'John, you're going to have to go. And now he goes out and bad-mouths. Now, there are people that are jealous. There are people that are upset that they're not here anymore. There are people — we've done an incredible job, the virus came in, and now we're doing an incredible job again."
According to one former senior Trump administration official: "When the President spoke about the Vietnam War, he said, 'It was a stupid war. Anyone who went was a sucker'."— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) September 4, 2020
There is nothing in The Atlantic's report to indicate that the multiple White House sources who spoke to reporters were Kelly. A follow-up report by Fox News confirmed many aspects of the Atlantic report, again without Kelly's name involved. Meanwhile, sources close to Kelly told The New York Times that the general is afraid of taking a politicized position given his military affiliation.
"He wants to avoid taking a position that might be perceived as political," said retired four-star Marine Corps general Gen. Anthony C. Zinni. "I also think he takes to heart the commitment to confidentiality in matters related to their interaction with the president."