Overnight Defense: Critics continue to swipe at Trump over his alleged comments on fallen troops l Trump says he won't cut funding for Stars and Stripes

Overnight Defense: Critics continue to swipe at Trump over his alleged comments on fallen troops l Trump says he won't cut funding for Stars and Stripes

Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.


THE TOPLINE: President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE on Friday faced scathing blowback from a report a day prior that he had made disparaging remarks about dead U.S. service members while on a trip to France in 2018, as well as numerous other occasions.

Retired military officials, veterans groups, lawmakers and other critics blasted the president for what they saw as an affront to the sacrifice of service members and respect for the military as a whole.


Trump's response: Trump, meanwhile, said Friday that he saw no need to apologize after The Atlantic report, dismissing it as a “fake story.” 

“It’s a fake story written by a magazine that was probably not going to be around much longer, but it was a totally fake story and that was confirmed by many people that were actually there,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Friday. “It was a terrible thing that somebody could say the kind of things — especially to me because I have done more for the military than almost anybody else.” 

Trump touted his administration’s efforts to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, invest in the U.S. military and increase pay for U.S. service members, claiming that the military was “totally depleted” under his predecessor, President Obama.

Trump made his first public comments angrily denying the story to reporters late Thursday after returning to the Washington, D.C., area following a campaign trip to Latrobe, Pa. 

“If people really exist that would have said that, they’re low lifes and they’re liars. And I would be willing to swear on anything that I never said that about our fallen heroes. There is nobody that respects them more,” Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews. 


Why this is a big deal: Military members and veterans represent a key bloc of support for Trump, who is facing reelection in two months and trailing Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race On The Money: Democrats get to the hard part Health Care — GOP attorneys general warn of legal battle over Biden's vaccine mandate MORE in national polling. 


The report's details: The White House has vigorously denied The Atlantic report on Thursday that said Trump canceled a 2018 trip to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris because he was worried his hair would become disheveled from rainfall and questioned whether it was necessary to visit a cemetery “filled with losers.” A number of current and former White House officials, including some that joined Trump on the 2018 trip, have denied the account as false. 

The magazine article, written by Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg, cited multiple anonymous sources. It said that Trump on the same trip also referred to U.S. Marines who were killed at Belleau Wood during World War I as “suckers” because they died. 

Goldberg, in an appearance on MSNBC with Andrea Mitchell, said he believed the president had said every word attributed to him in the story, defending the article and saying his sources were good.

The Associated Press later independently confirmed many of the comments reported in The Atlantic.


Esper steps in: Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperBiden, Trump battle over who's to blame for Afghanistan Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism | Addresses critical race theory | Top general says Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war The Biden administration and Tunisia: Off to a good start MORE said Friday that Trump respects U.S. service members amid the growing furor, saying in a statement that the Commander-in-Chief has "the highest respect and admiration for our nation's military members, veterans and families. That is why he has fought for greater pay and more funding for our armed forces.”

Esper’s statement offers support to Trump as fury toward the president grows, but it notably does not directly deny Trump made the alleged comments.

At the time of the trip, Trump blamed bad weather for the canceled cemetery visit, saying visibility was too low for his helicopter to fly and that the Service Service would not drive him there.

Esper was not Defense secretary at the time Trump allegedly made the disparaging remarks, but he was Army secretary and was in France in 2018 during the World War I commemoration events in question.

A senior defense official said Friday that Esper’s recollection is that “the weather was bad.”


Other critics: A retired Army general on Thursday night went viral for his scathing response to Trump's reported remarks, saying the president is “no patriot.”

Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton posted a video responding to The Atlantic report, saying “I’m pretty unhappy with you, Mr. Trump. So I’m going to keep this short for your famous short attention span.

“You have shown disrespect to the military on countless occasions. I am stunned that anybody in the United States military would consider you anything but a ‘loser’ or a ‘sucker.’ You’re no patriot." 

Eaton pulled out the dog tags found at the crash site from where his father, a fighter pilot, was killed during the Vietnam War in 1969.

“Our Army, our Navy, our Marine Corps, our Air Force, our Coast Guard. Brave men and women. They’re not just brave. They’re smart and wise,” Eaton said in the video. “So, Mr. Trump, come Nov. 3, we’re all voting for a real patriot — Joe Biden. And everybody who hears this, please take notice and please vote. Vote Democratic. Our country’s honor depends on it.”

The 2-minute clip went viral, garnering more than 2 million views as of Friday morning.


Biden also weighs in: Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, condemned Trump's reported comments and said the nation’s “one truly sacred obligation” is to care for military members and their families, both during their deployment and after they return home.


Here are more stories from The Hill on the controversy:

– John Bolton says he didn't hear Trump insult fallen soldiers in France

– Pence rejects report on Trump disparaging fallen soldiers as 'anonymous smear job'

– The Hill's Campaign Report: Backlash grows over Trump's reported comments on fallen troops

– Parents of slain soldiers blast Trump's reported 'loser' comments in new ad

– Duckworth says she'll take 'wheelchair and my titanium legs' over Trump's 'supposed bone spurs any day

TRUMP SAYS HE WON'T CUT FUNDING FOR STARS AND STRIPES: Trump said Friday that his administration would not cut funding to the U.S. military’s independent newspaper, Stars and Stripes, after the Pentagon moved to shut down the publication.

“The United States of America will NOT be cutting funding to @starsandstripes magazine under my watch. It will continue to be a wonderful source of information to our Great Military!” Trump tweeted Friday afternoon.


A surprising reversal: Trump’s tweet appears to reverse plans of his own administration. The Pentagon had ordered the newspaper to stop publishing on Sept. 30 and dissolve by the end of January. Earlier this year, the Pentagon moved to cut $15.5 million in funding for the publication from the Defense Department’s budget.


A response to backlash?: The decision to shut down Stars and Stripes prompted backlash from bipartisan members of Congress. A group of senators requested that the Pentagon reinstate necessary funding for the newspaper to continue operating in a letter sent to Defense Secretary Mark Esper earlier this week.

“We urge you to take steps to preserve the funding prerogatives of Congress before allowing any such disruption to take place,” the senators wrote. “Stars and Stripes is an essential part of our nation’s freedom of the press that serves the very population charged with defending that freedom.”


Other reasons?: Trump’s decision to reverse course comes as he endures scrutiny following a report in The Atlantic that said he disparaged fallen U.S. service members as “losers” and “suckers.” The White House has vehemently denied the allegations as reported by the magazine. Military members and veterans represent a key supporter group of Trump as he faces reelection in two months. 



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