Biden blasts Trump as 'disgusting' over report he called U.S. war dead 'losers'

Dareh Gregorian and Lauren Egan

Democrat Joe Biden on Friday criticized President Donald Trump for remarks he reportedly made referring to U.S. war dead as "losers" and "suckers," describing them as "disgusting" and "damnable."

"Quite frankly if what is written in The Atlantic is true it affirms what most of us believe to be true - that Donald Trump is not fit to be the job of president and be the commander in chief," Biden said at a campaign speech in Wilmington, Del.

Trump and former aides have vociferously denied the accounts in the article.

Trump attacked his former chief of staff John Kelly Friday evening when asked by reporters at the White House how the public should interpret the fact that Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general who would have been deeply involved with the day's plans in question, has stayed silent on the issue.

"I know John Kelly. Didn't do a good job, had no temperament, and ultimately he was petered out, he was exhausted. This man was totally exhausted. He wasn't even able to function in the last number of months," Trump said. "He got eaten alive. He was unable to handle the pressures of this job."

Trump called The Atlantic piece a "hoax" — a term he consistently throws at unflattering news stories as well as investigations into his wrongdoings — warning that "you’ll hear more of these things, totally unrelated, as we get closer and closer to the election.”

Biden invoked the military service of his son Beau, who later died from cancer. "He wasn’t a sucker. The servicemen and women he served with, particularly those who did not come home, were not losers," Biden said.

"If these statements are true, the president should humbly apologize to every Gold Star mother and father and every Blue Star family that he's denigrated and insulted.

"Who the heck does he think he is?" Biden continued.

Trump, the Democratic presidential nominee said, has "no loyalty to any cause other than himself." If the article is accurate, Biden added, "It is absolutely damnable. It is a disgrace."

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Biden's running mate, said in an interview with a local Raleigh, North Carolina, news station on Friday that she believed Trump could make such comments about veterans.

"I believe that he is totally capable of making those comments based on everything he has done over the course of almost four years of his presidency, which is to undermine the integrity of our troops, of our democracy, of the American people," Harris said.

Democratic lawmakers who've served in the military and other U.S. veterans also blasted the president.

"I am not shocked to hear yet more instances of Donald Trump belittling the sacrifices of those who have shown more bravery than he is capable of," but "I am appalled," said Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill, in a call arranged by Joe Biden's presidential campaign.

Duckworth, who lost her legs and partial use of her right arm while serving in Iraq, also made mention of Trump's use of a medical deferment to avoid serving in the Vietnam War.

"I take my wheelchair and my titanium legs over Donald Trump supposed bone spurs any day," Duckworth said.

The Atlantic article published Thursday claimed Trump's decision to scrap a visit to Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018 to honor dead U.S. service members was because he didn't want to get his hair wet and because he didn't think it was important.

"Why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers," Trump told aides, according to The Atlantic, which cited four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion. Several aides who traveled with Trump to France rebutted the account after it was published.

The report also said Trump specifically asked that wounded veterans, including amputees, be excluded from a military parade during a White House planning session in 2018. “Nobody wants to see that,” the magazine quoted Trump as saying.

Friday morning, VoteVets, a progressive veterans' group that's been critical of the president, put out an online ad featuring Gold Star parents who were angered by the report.

"My son is not a loser," one of the six parents featured in the clip says.

Marine veteran Rep. Conor Lamb, D.-Pa., noted the history of the soldiers buried at Aisne-Marne, and said, "That burial ground deserve the utmost respect and veneration of any American."

Trump, who gave a heated denial of the account on Thursday night, said Friday at an event in the Oval Office that "It was a fake story written by a magazine that’s not going to be around much longer."

"But it was a totally fake story, and that was confirmed by many people who were actually there. It was a terrible thing that somebody could say the kind of things, and especially to me, cause I’ve done more for the military than almost anybody else," he insisted.

Trump also lashed out at the magazine on Twitter, writing, "The Atlantic Magazine is dying, like most magazines, so they make up a fake story in order to gain some relevance. Story already refuted, but this is what we are up against. Just like the Fake Dossier. You fight and and fight, and then people realize it was a total fraud!"

Vice President Mike Pence also pushed back against the report in an interview on CNBC Friday.

“I wasn't in Paris but it never happened. I talked to the president that day,” Pence said.

“I know how disappointed President Trump was that there was a bad weather call that did not permit him to fly to Belleau Wood to honor our fallen there,” the vice president said, adding, "I don't need anybody to tell me President Donald Trump loves our respects the members of our armed forces like no one I have ever met, and that's why I reject this story out of hand."

At a press briefing, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany noted that ten current and former administration officials who were on the 2018 Paris trip have denied the account of the scuttled cemetery trip described in the article. McEnany also displayed an email showing the planned helicopter flight to the memorial site had been called off because of bad weather, as was reported at the time.

"The story in The Atlantic has been categorically debunked," she said, adding that the story was "based on cowardly anonymous sources" who "probably don't even exist." "No one, and I mean no one, loves and cares for our servicemen and woman as much as Donald J.Trump," she said.

She declined to take questions.