John Kelly delivered a scathing rebuke of former President Donald Trump, under whom Kelly served as secretary of homeland security and then chief of staff, and corroborated several accounts alleging Trump disrespect for service members.
The former White House chief of staff confirmed to CNN a 2020 Atlantic story that Trump was bewildered by service members who died in war, during a 2017 Memorial Day stop at Arlington National Cemetery.
“I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” Trump purportedly told Kelly — whose own son, like his father a U.S. Marine, was killed in action in 2010 — at the time.
From the archives (August 2017): Ex-Marine Kelly in, ex-Wall Streeter Scaramucci out: Why Trump made switch
In another 2017 incident, Trump allegedly insisted that no wounded veterans get the spotlight in a large military parade he was attempting to have planned.
“Those are the heroes,” Kelly replied, according to his book, “The Divider: Trump in the White House.”
“ ‘A person who admires autocrats and murderous dictators. A person that has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law.’ ”
“In our society, there’s only one group of people who are more heroic than they are — and they are buried over in Arlington.”
“I don’t want them,” Trump is said to have shot back. “It doesn’t look good for me.”
That episode mirrored an account in a recent profile in the Atlantic recounting Trump’s anger at having a wounded Army captain sing for the chairman.
Kelly also confirmed a 2018 anecdote alleging Trump complained about a planned visit to the graves of soldiers at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in France.
“Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers,” Trump allegedly said.
From the archives (September 2020): Trump disparaged U.S. war dead as ‘losers’ and ‘suckers,’ according to the Atlantic
Also see (September 2020): Trump suggests Pentagon brass support military action in service to defense contractors
Reports at the time suggested rainy weather and complex travel arrangements had also been factors.
Kelly, a former Marine Corps general who lost his then-29-year-old son to a land mine in Afghanistan, admonished Trump’s behavior.
“What can I add that has not already been said?” Kelly told CNN. “A person who admires autocrats and murderous dictators. A person that has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law.”
Kelly was Trump’s longest-serving chief of staff, a role he publicly described as the “hardest job I’ve ever had.”
A rambunctious, problem child, Trump’s parents had shipped him off to New York Military Academy in the 1960s, to instill some military discipline in him, according to some of his biographers.
Trump later skirted the military draft to the Vietnam War on at least five occasions, including for purported bone spurs on his feet. Kelly served enlisted in the Marines during that time.
Decades later, Trump jokingly characterized as his personal Vietnam avoiding sexually transmitted diseases during escapades with various women. He stressed that he did not agree with the conflict.
“Well, I was never a fan of that war, I’ll be honest with you. I thought it was a terrible war. I thought it was very far away. Nobody ever, you know you’re talking about Vietnam, and, at that time, nobody had ever heard of the country,” Trump previously told “Good Morning Britain.”
In addition to Kelly confirming some of the anecdotes against his old boss Trump has had some public run-ins with military families.
For example, in 2015, Trump jabbed at the late Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who was the party’s presidential nominee in 2008, questioning McCain’s widely accepted stature as a war hero.
“I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump said at the time.
Recently, Trump accused retired Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley of treason, which, he hastened to note, used to be punishable by death.
Kelly further criticized Trump for being untruthful to the public. “A person who is not truthful regarding his position on the protection of unborn life, on women, on minorities, on evangelical Christians, on Jews, on working men and women,” Kelly said in a statement.
Trump has publicly insisted that veterans and military service members “love me.”
The New York Post reportedly contacted the Trump campaign for comment.