WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Thursday strongly denied a magazine report saying he had called fallen U.S. military personnel buried in Europe “losers” and declined to visit an American cemetery during a trip to France because he thought it unimportant.
The Atlantic magazine reported that Trump, a Republican running for re-election who has touted his record helping U.S. veterans, had referred to Marines buried in an American cemetery near Paris as “losers” and declined to visit in 2018 because of concern the rain that day would mess up his hair.
Trump on Thursday told reporters the story was false.
“To think that I would make statements negative to our military and fallen heroes when nobody has done what I’ve done,” for the U.S. armed forces, Trump said. “It’s a total lie. … It’s a disgrace.”
The president said he did not go to the cemetery because weather prevented a helicopter flight. The alternative, a long drive, would have meant going through very busy areas of Paris, and the Secret Service objected, he said.
“The Secret Service told me, ‘You can’t do it.’ I said, ‘I have to do it. I want to be there.’ They said, ‘You can’t do it,'” Trump said.
The Atlantic said in an emailed statement: “We stand behind our reporting.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who is leading Trump in national polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election, emphasized his own commitment to helping members of the military in a response to the report.
“If the revelations in today’s Atlantic article are true, then they are yet another marker of how deeply President Trump and I disagree about the role of the President of the United States,” Biden said in a statement released by his campaign.
“And if I have the honor of serving as the next commander in chief, I will ensure that our American heroes know that I will have their back and honor their sacrifice — always.”
As a presidential candidate, Trump made negative comments about now-deceased Republican Senator John McCain for having been captured during the Vietnam War.
“He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump said in 2015 when he was running for the Republican presidential nomination.
Trump said on Thursday he disagreed with McCain but still respected him.
“I was never a fan. I will admit that openly,” Trump said. “I disagreed with John McCain. But I still respected him.”
(Reporting by Alexandra Alper; writing and additional reporting by Jeff Mason; editing by Lincoln Feast and Jonathan Oatis)