News

Did Trump Call Fallen Soldiers 'Suckers' and 'Losers'?

A former Trump administration official and Biden recently accused the former president of making the statement.

Published Oct. 4, 2023

 (U.S. Department of State/Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via U.S. Department of State/Wikimedia Commons

In early October 2023, U.S. President Joe Biden and a former member of Donald Trump's presidential administration resurrected a years-old accusation against Trump that allegedly revealed his true opinion of U.S. military troops. According to the claim, Trump once called fallen soldiers "suckers" and "losers" while talking to people in his inner circle.

Trump and his allies have denied the accusation since it first emerged in 2020, shortly before the election between Trump and Biden. Whether performative or authentic, Trump's apparent support for soldiers in the U.S. military, both active and veteran members, has been part of his presidential campaigns.

Following a story by The Atlantic, a number of reputable news outlets reported on the alleged comments in 2020, relying entirely on anonymous sources from his administration.

However, there appeared to be no evidence of an audio or video recording of the remarks in question, nor was there any documentation, such as transcripts or presidential notes, to independently confirm or deny the alleged quotes' authenticity. Moreover, since Snopes did not witness the in-question comments firsthand, we can't say for certain whether Trump called fallen soldiers "suckers" and "losers."

We reached out to Trump's representatives to see if they had any supplemental evidence to help substantiate their denial, as well as for a response to renewed attention on the comments in 2023. We will update this story when, or if, we receive a response.

How the Accusations Emerged

Citing anonymous officials from the administration, the 2020 article by The Atlantic, titled, "Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are 'Losers' and 'Suckers'," unpacked Trump's trip to Paris in 2018 when he allegedly did not want to visit a cemetery of American war dead. The visit was cancelled.

Trump did not want to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery — which is home to the graves of Americans who fought and died in World War I — for two reasons, according to The Atlantic: He feared the rain would dishevel his hair, and "because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day." The Atlantic continued (emphasis ours):

Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day. In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, "Why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers." In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as "suckers" for getting killed.

Shortly after the publication of The Atlantic report, one unnamed senior official with the U.S. Department of Defense and one senior U.S. Marine Corps officer confirmed the 2018 cemetery remarks from the above report in interviews with The Associated Press (AP). According to the AP, the official had firsthand knowledge of Trump's remarks, and the officer had been told about them.

Trump Allies Deny the Claims

The White House blamed the canceled cemetery visit on poor weather. Responding to The Atlantic's reporting, Trump said the accusation was "a disgraceful situation" by a "terrible magazine."

Trump strongly denied calling fallen soldiers "losers" and "suckers." Speaking to reporters on Sept. 3, 2020, upon returning from a campaign rally to Washington, D.C., just after the report came out, Trump said: "I would be willing to swear on anything that I never said that about our fallen heroes. There is nobody that respects them more. No animal — nobody — what animal would say such a thing?"

Just days later, Zach Fuentes, a former White House aide who left the administration in early 2019 and was with the president on the Paris trip and presumably near him during the in-question conversations about the cemetery visit, stood up for Trump in an interview with Breitbart.

Referring to Gen. John Kelly, who was with Trump during the trip as his chief of staff, he said, "I did not hear POTUS call anyone losers when I told him about the weather. Honestly, do you think General Kelly would have stood by and let ANYONE call fallen Marines losers?"

Reporting on Fuentes' interview with Breitbart, The Washington Post noted that the phrase "I did not hear..." is not the same as "it didn't happen." Furthermore, there was no evidence of Kelly being around Trump to hear the alleged comments.

Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton, who said he was on the trip, also issued a denial to Fox News, days after the article came out, saying it was "simply false."

Then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also denied the claims in an interview with Fox News in September 2020. He said, "I was with him for a good part of that trip, if I'm thinking about this visit and the timing right, and I never heard him use the words that are described in that article. Just, I never saw it."

How the Claims Resurfaced in 2023

On Oct. 2, 2023, Biden's official account on X resurfaced the accusation, saying Trump once allegedly "referred to American service members as 'suckers' and 'losers.'" The post (displayed above) included video footage of Biden speaking at a September 2023 event to honor the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, who was a military veteran and prisoner of war. (In that speech, Biden referenced the 2020 story by The Atlantic.)

The day after Biden's post on X, Kelly repeated the claim, as well. Speaking to CNN story, he said (emphasis, ours):

What can I add that has not already been said? A person that thinks those who defend their country in uniform, or are shot down or seriously wounded in combat, or spend years being tortured as POWs are all 'suckers' because 'there is nothing in it for them.' A person that did not want to be seen in the presence of military amputees because 'it doesn't look good for me.' A person who demonstrated open contempt for a Gold Star family – for all Gold Star families – on TV during the 2016 campaign, and rants that our most precious heroes who gave their lives in America's defense are 'losers' and wouldn't visit their graves in France.

In other words, Kelly, who was with Trump in Paris, confirmed that Trump did call American troops "losers" and "suckers," though it was unclear whether he witnessed the comments firsthand or heard about them from someone else, or from news reports. (The 2020 Atlantic story detailed a separate incident of Trump visiting the grave of Kelly's son who was killed in action in Afghanistan, for which Kelly was supposedly present. In that case, Trump allegedly asked of military personnel who volunteered to join the service, "What was in it for them?")

Responding to the CNN interview, a Trump official issued a statement to CNN, saying, "John Kelly has totally clowned himself with these debunked stories he's made up because he didn't serve his president well while working as chief of staff."

In addition to the alleged statements about service members generally, Trump has publicly insulted McCain, in particular, by calling him "not a war hero," and "I like people who weren't captured," according to footage on C-SPAN. Also, for The Atlantic story, anonymous sources said he called former President George H.W. Bush a "loser" for getting shot down by the Japanese while a Navy pilot during World War II.

In sum, the claim stemmed from a story by The Atlantic, which relied on anonymous, second-hand reports of Trump's alleged words; there was no independent footage or documented proof to substantiate the in-question comments; and Trump vehemently denies that he once called service members "losers" and "suckers." While it was certainly possible that he said those things, Snopes was unable to independently verify the claim.

Sources

Baker, Peter, and Maggie Haberman. "Trump Faces Uproar Over Reported Remarks Disparaging Fallen Soldiers." The New York Times, 4 Sept. 2020. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/04/us/politics/trump-veterans-losers.html. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

Blake, Aaron. "Analysis | What Trump Officials Really Say — and Don't Say — in Denying That He Disparaged Fallen Troops." Washington Post, 8 Sept. 2020. www.washingtonpost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/09/08/trump-officials-military-disparagement-denials/. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

Goldberg, Jeffrey. "Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are 'Losers' and 'Suckers.'" The Atlantic, 3 Sept. 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/09/trump-americans-who-died-at-war-are-losers-and-suckers/615997/. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

Mason, Jeff, et al. "Biden Warns Trump, 'MAGA' Movement Threaten American Democracy." Reuters, 29 Sept. 2023. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-warn-threat-democracy-trump-honor-mccain-2023-09-28/. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

"Report: Trump Disparaged US War Dead as 'Losers,' 'Suckers.'" AP News, 4 Sept. 2020, https://apnews.com/article/election-2020-ap-top-news-politics-b823f2c285641a4a09a96a0b195636ed. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

"Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Steve Doocy, Jedediah Bila, and Pete Hegseth of Fox & Friends." United States Department of State, https://2017-2021.state.gov/secretary-michael-r-pompeo-with-steve-doocy-jedediah-bila-and-pete-hegseth-of-fox-friends/. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

Tapper, Jake. "Exclusive: John Kelly Goes on the Record to Confirm Several Disturbing Stories about Trump | CNN Politics." CNN, 2 Oct. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/10/02/politics/john-kelly-donald-trump-us-service-members-veterans/index.html. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

"Trump: "He's a War Hero Because He Was Captured. I like People That Weren't Captured."" C-SPAN. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=541Cg2Jnb8s. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.