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Esper defends Trump amid fallen troops firestorm


Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight 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 The Hill’s Campaign Report: Backlash grows over Trump’s reported comments on fallen troops Trump says he won’t cut funding for Stars and Stripes MORE said Friday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpDHS to label white supremacists as the ‘most persistent and lethal threat’ to the US: report Buttigieg slams Trump over comments on fallen soldiers: ‘He must think we’re all suckers’ White House tells federal agencies to cancel ‘divisive’ racial sensitivity training: report MORE respects U.S. service members amid growing furor over a report that said Trump disparaged fallen U.S. troops as “losers” and “suckers.”

“President Trump has the highest respect and admiration for our nation’s military members, veterans and families,” Esper said in a brief statement. “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.

The Atlantic, citing multiple unnamed sources, reported Thursday that Trump canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018 because he was worried about the rain messing up his hair and questioned the value of honoring war dead.

“Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers,” Trump said, according to The Atlantic.

The magazine also reported that Trump referred to the U.S. Marines who were killed in World War I’s Battle of Belleau Wood as “suckers” in a conversation during the same trip.

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

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 for the World War I commemoration events in question.

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

“At the time, he was aware of the flight being canceled for weather reasons and never heard any other such allegation as those in The Atlantic until today,” the official said.

The White House has vigorously denied the story. On Friday, Trump said he saw no need to apologize for the alleged remarks, dismissing the Atlantic report 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 considers service members and veterans a key part of his base as he seeks reelection, and often boasts of defense budget increases and troop pay raises that have happened under his watch.

But the firestorm over the Atlantic report is raising questions about whether he can prevent that support from eroding.

A Military Times poll released earlier this week found Trump’s support among active-duty troops slipping. The poll found 47 percent reporting an unfavorable view of Trump. Additionally, 41 percent said they would vote for Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenOvernight 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 Trump rips media for soft treatment of Biden: Questions ‘meant for a child’ Poll: 2 in 3 voters say it’s ‘likely’ that people lie when taking political surveys MORE compared to 37 percent who said they would vote for Trump.



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