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Report: Trump privately called America's war dead 'losers,' 'suckers'

President Donald Trump at D-Day 2019 commemorations at

President Donald Trump at D-Day 2019 commemorations at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France with first lady Melania Trump. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Mandel Ngan

'What was in it for them?'

When President Donald Trump canceled a visit to a U.S. military cemetery while in France in 2018, the reason given was that rain grounded his helicopter and that the Secret Service ruled out driving. Neither excuse was true, according to a story posted Thursday by Jeffrey Goldberg, the acclaimed editor-in-chief of The Atlantic.

Trump blew off the trip because he said he didn't consider it all that important to honor America's war dead, the report said, citing four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussions. "Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers,” the commander in chief reportedly said. In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 Marines who lost their lives in the World War I battle at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.

The president's reported attitude then wasn't inconsistent with what he said in the open in 2015, when he belittled the late Sen. John McCain. A Navy pilot during the Vietnam War, McCain was shot down and held as a prisoner more than five years by the North Vietnamese. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said. (It begins at 1:48 mark.) “He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK?” When McCain died in 2018, Goldberg wrote, Trump told senior staff that “we’re not going to support that loser’s funeral,” and he became furious when he saw flags lowered to half-staff in the senator's honor.

On at least two occasions since becoming president, Goldberg reported, citing three sources with direct knowledge of his views, Trump referred to former President George H.W. Bush as a “loser” for getting shot down by the Japanese as a Navy pilot in World War II.

On Memorial Day 2017, Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery with John Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security and later chief of staff. They were to stop by the section with the grave of Kelly's son Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, who was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan. According to Goldberg's sources, Trump turned to Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, and said: "I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” Kelly at first took it as a comment about selflessness; later, he concluded it was something else.

A friend of Kelly's, also a retired four-star general, told Goldberg that Trump “can’t fathom the idea of doing something for someone other than himself.” Trump "just thinks that anyone who does anything when there’s no direct personal gain to be had is a sucker. There’s no money in serving the nation,” Kelly's friend said. “Trump can’t imagine anyone else’s pain. That’s why he would say this to the father of a fallen Marine on Memorial Day in the cemetery where he’s buried.”

In a 2018 meeting for a military parade Trump wanted to hold, the president asked his staff not to include wounded veterans, Goldberg reported. His reason: Spectators would be made uncomfortable by the presence of amputees. “Nobody wants to see that,” the commander in chief reportedly said.

Trump denies it

Trump angrily denied The Atlantic's story as “disgraceful” and “either made up” or from people he “couldn’t get rid of them fast enough.”

"What animal would say such a thing?” Trump said Thursday night while returning to the White House from a campaign rally in western Pennsylvania. "If they really exist, if people really exist that would have said that, they’re low lifes and they’re liars," the president said.

More: "I would be willing to swear on anything that I never said that about our fallen heroes. There is nobody that respects them more."

The Associated Press reported that both a senior Defense Department official with firsthand knowledge of the events and a senior U.S. Marine Corps officer who was told about Trump’s comments confirmed some of the remarks reported in The Atlantic, including the 2018 cemetery comments.

A former senior administration official confirmed to The Washington Post that the commander in chief frequently made disparaging comments about veterans and troops missing in action. Trump believed people who served in the Vietnam War must be “losers” because they hadn’t gotten out of it. Trump got a medical deferment from the Vietnam-era draft on a questionable diagnosis of bone spurs in his heels.

Biden preaches calm, change in Kenosha

Two days after Trump thumped away with his law-and-order message in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Joe Biden visited the town and said "the American people … ain't buying it." He accused Trump of giving oxygen to hatred.

Speaking to community members Thursday at a church, the Democratic nominee again condemned the violence, including rioting, that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake, while offering himself as a calming influence — a “congenital optimist” bringing hope, rather than playing to fears, Politico reported. Biden also said there has been an awakening among white Americans, comparing cellphone videos of police treatment of Black people with 1960s TV footage showing civil rights activists being beaten by authorities.

"We’re finally now getting to the point where we’re going to address the original sin in this country … slavery, and all the vestiges of it,” Biden said. “I can’t guarantee you everything gets solved in four years. But I can guarantee you one thing: It will be a whole heck of a lot better, we’ll move a lot further down the road.”

Biden met separately and privately in person for 90 minutes with Blake's family. He spoke by phone with Blake, a Black man who remains in a hospital, paralyzed below the waist after being shot multiple times in the back in front of his young children. The former vice president said Blake "talked about how nothing was going to defeat him, how whether he walked again or not, he was not going to give up."

"It was very obvious that Vice President Biden cared, as he extended to Jacob Jr. a sense of humanity, treating him as a person worthy of consideration and prayer," said Blake family lawyer Ben Crump.

The Trump campaign criticized Biden's visit even before he got there. The president's campaign manager Bill Stepien said on "Fox & Friends" that "this is not the time to be injecting politics" into what he called "a really serious situation." What was different about Trump going there? Stepien said his boss visited Kenosha "as president of the United States,” while Biden went as "a candidate."

Double shots of MAGA?

Election officials in North Carolina cautioned voters on Thursday that they would be committing a felony if they took up Trump's idea to vote twice — one by mail and once in person — to test if the mail-in voting system there is secure against fraud. 

Trump kept up his evidence-deprived attacks on mail-in voting as ripe for massive fraud, with his Twitter posts urging voters who send in mail-in ballots to also go to their polling place on Election Day “to see whether or not your Mail In Vote has been Tabulated (Counted).” Twitter tagged the tweet with a warning label for violating the platform's rules "about civic and election integrity."

Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said going to the polls to check on mail-in ballots is not a good idea either. “That is not necessary, and it would lead to longer lines and the possibility of spreading COVID-19,” Brinson Bell wrote. She encouraged residents who wanted to verify that their ballot was counted to check tracking links on the board's website.

In New York, do-over is OK

You can vote twice in New York, but only one will count. The Empire State is one of the few where a voter may mail in or drop off an absentee ballot and then vote at their polling place, officials said Thursday. But doing that will cancel out the absentee ballot; then only the vote cast at the polling site will count, reports Newsday's Michael Gormley.

“Our state allows us to change our minds … in most other places you would be arrested," observed Susan Lerner of Common Cause-NY. "In New York, they simply throw out your absentee ballot … it’s very secure.”

New York election law states that an absentee ballot will be put aside if the same voter casts a ballot on Election Day, Nov. 3, or at a polling site during the state's early-voting period from Oct. 24 to Nov. 1. “Even if you request or cast and return an absentee ballot, you may still go to the polls and vote in person,” the Board of Elections stated. “The election law recognizes that plans change."

There are several safeguards to make sure no one casts more than one vote. Voters at polls are checked against a list of absentee voters in electronic poll books. If a voter already has submitted an absentee ballot by mail or dropped one off at a polling site, that absentee ballot will be set aside. In addition, all 62 counties in the state compare their lists to make sure no voter is counted twice, according to the board.

Trump mocks Biden's mask

First, Trump shunned mask-wearing to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Then he wore one occasionally and said it could be "patriotic" to use one. At an airport hangar rally near Pittsburgh on Thursday night, he was back to making fun of them — at least on Biden.

"Did you ever see a man who likes a mask as much as him?” Trump said. “He has it hanging down. Because it gives him a feeling of security. If I were a psychiatrist, right, you know I’d say: ‘This guy’s got some big issues. Hanging down. Hanging down.’ ”

Hundreds of supporters inside the hangar stood close together, and mask-wearing was spotty. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweeted a photo of the shoulder-to-shoulder overflow crowd outside.

Yet Trump also suggested that people do during the coming Labor Day weekend what his rally crowd wasn't. “Distance on the weekend and all of that stuff. Wear your mask when you’re close together in particular and wash your hands, all of those things,” he said before poking fun at Biden's mask-wearing.

Of tresses and treachery

McEnany opened Thursday's White House press briefing by replaying a loop of security-camera video, obtained by Fox News, of Nancy Pelosi's now-notorious Monday visit to a San Francisco hair salon in violation of her city's coronavirus shutdown rules. Pelosi's mask was down for part of the session.

"Nancy Pelosi, you ought to apologize to the American people," McEnany said. Trump reveled in Pelosi's embarrassment on Twitter. 

The House speaker on Wednesday claimed that she was hoodwinked by the salon owners in the incident, which Republicans are using to taunt the Democratic leader as a hypocrite on pandemic precautions. "I take responsibility for trusting the word of a neighborhood salon that I’ve been to over the years many times and that when they said we’re able to accommodate people one person at a time," she said. 

Pelosi's stylist, Jonathan DeNardo, through a lawyer, backed up her claim that she was set up by the salon's owners. DeNardo said they blame Pelosi for the shutdown orders — they actually come from state and local officials — and he had gotten the owners' OK to let Pelosi in for a shampoo and blow-dry.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday that "to protect our democracy," the platform will restrict new political ads in the week before Election Day and remove posts that have misinformation about COVID-19 and voting. Trump's campaign complained he was getting silenced by "silenced by the Silicon Valley Mafia." Facebook's critics said the moves won't cure its problem of being "the single biggest vector of dangerous misinformation and voter suppression campaigns in the United States.”
  • Trump’s campaign launched a series of Facebook ads on Thursday that featured a manipulated photo of Biden, edited to make him appear older and frail, HuffPost reported.
  • Because of social-distancing guidelines, Biden turned down a handshake with a man who extended his hand at his Kenosha meeting. “Can’t do that,” Biden said. But he exchanged an elbow bump, felt the man’s biceps and exclaimed, “Nice guns!"
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Thursday it is unlikely a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready by the end of October, but that it is not impossible. “I think most of the people feel it’s going to be November, December,” Fauci said on CNN.
  • After Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's furious reaction Wednesday night to Trump's move to defund New York City for too-soft policing policies, the governor and Trump battled Thursday over their respective handling of the coronavirus crisis, Newsday's Jones reports. Trump told his nighttime rally that if you take out New York's coronavirus cases, "we would have numbers that are even better than they are."
  • Former Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has a new book coming out, with effusive praise for her ex-boss and this jarring line about a colleague she hadn't known before they joined the White House: "He was a liberal, aggressive, foulmouthed Jew from New York City who had spent most of his career working in Hollywood. I was pretty much his total opposite.” She goes on to recount that she and communications aide Josh Raffel became friends. The description of a foulmouthed aggressive New Yorker also would seem to fit Trump, who is not Jewish.
  • Also in Sanders' "Speaking for Myself": She wrote that Kim Jong Un "appeared to wink at me" during Trump's Singapore summit with the North Korean dictator in 2018. When she told Trump about it, he exclaimed, “Kim Jong Un hit on you! He did! He [expletive] hit on you!” and joked, “Well, Sarah, that settles it. You’re going to North Korea and taking one for the team!"
  • Rick Snyder, the last Republican governor of Michigan, wrote in USA Today that he is endorsing Biden because Trump is a "bully" who "lacks a moral compass" and "ignores the truth." Other former GOP governors favoring Biden over Trump include John Kasich of Ohio, Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey and Bill Weld of Massachusetts.

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