Trump escalated his friction with the military, saying its leaders 'want to do nothing but fight wars' so weapon makers can be 'happy'

President Donald Trump addresses US troops in Afghanistan in November 2019.Reuters
  • President Donald Trump has escalated tensions with the US military, accusing military leaders of seeking war to make defense contractors "happy."
  • He made his comments Monday as part of his denial of The Atlantic's report that he privately described dead American troops as "losers" and "suckers."
  • "I'm not saying the military's in love with me," he said Monday. "The soldiers are."
  • NBC News on Monday cited multiple sources who said Trump was unhappy with Defense Secretary Mark Esper and had held talks with the secretary of veterans affairs about replacing him.

President Donald Trump has escalated his tensions with the US military, accusing the Pentagon of seeking war to appease defense contractors.

Trump made the comments during a White House press conference on Monday, where he repeated his denial of claims first reported in The Atlantic that he'd privately disparaged Americans who died in World War I.

"I'm not saying the military's in love with me," he said. "The soldiers are."Advertisement

He continued: "The top people in the Pentagon probably aren't because they want to do nothing but fight wars so all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy."

After describing the US military campaign against the Islamic State, he added: "Some people don't like to come home — some people like to continue to spend money. One cold-hearted globalist betrayal after another, and that's what it was."

Trump arrives for the lunch after the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I at Elysée Palace in Paris France, on November 11, 2018.Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images
Thursday's explosive report in The Atlantic quoted unnamed officials who said Trump canceled a 2018 visit to a Paris cemetery because he did not believe it was important to go and pay respects to the Americans there who died in World War I. The White House publicly blamed bad weather at the time.

The Atlantic reported that Trump privately said the cemetery was "filled with losers" and said on the same trip that the US Marines who lost their lives in the war were "suckers."

The outlet also said he called Sen. John McCain — a Republican Navy veteran who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam — a "f---ing loser" after McCain's death in 2018.
Sen. John McCain.REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Trump and the White House have repeatedly denied the story even as details from it have been corroborated by other news outlets.Advertisement

Trump also denied ever calling McCain a "loser," though he has done so publicly and tweeted about it in 2015.

On Monday, NBC News cited multiple senior administration officials as saying Trump was unhappy with Defense Secretary Mark Esper and had talked to Robert Wilkie, the secretary of veterans affairs, about taking over Esper's role.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper in June 2020.Associated Press
The White House declined to comment to NBC News on the record, while the Veterans Affairs Department and the Pentagon declined to comment to NBC News.Advertisement

Trump and Esper have publicly clashed in the past, with Trump said to have considered firing Esper in June after Esper publicly disagreed with Trump's desire to deploy troops to end protests against police brutality.

After the Atlantic article was published, Trump on Friday reversed the administration's plans to cut funding to Stars and Stripes, the US military's editorially independent newspaper that was first published during the Civil War.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie at a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in April 2020.Associated Press
Wilkie has defended Trump against the allegations made in The Atlantic, telling CNN that he did not believe the report and that Trump calling McCain a loser was just "politics."Advertisement