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SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mitt Romney, who has criticized President Donald Trump for disparaging war heroes like the late Sen. John McCain, declined to weigh in Friday on reports that the president referred to men who died in war as “losers” and “suckers.”
“Sen. Romney has expressed clear disapproval of similar comments the president made publicly in the past. He will reserve comment on these reports from unnamed sources,” according to a statement from his office.
The Atlantic reported late Thursday that Trump canceled a visit to Aisne-Marne American Cemetery during a trip to France because he feared his hair would become messed up in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, citing four unidentified people who the publication said had 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,” the Atlantic reported. 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.
Trump deemed the story “fake news” in a series of tweets Thursday and Friday.
“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!” the president tweeted.
Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart, a former Air Force pilot, said late Friday his take on the Atlantic story is very simple: “I don’t believe it, not for a moment.”
The past four years have shown that unsourced stories are almost always untrue, and it’s completely inconsistent with everything the president has ever said about our military, Stewart said.
Stewart’s Democratic challenger in the 2nd Congressional District, Kael Weston, called him out on Twitter.
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 4, 2020
“Meanwhile: where is Stewart re Trump’s dismissive comments toward our KIA? Stewart/Trump need to be fired Nov 3. Our nation and state can then begin to heal and move forward,” Weston tweeted.
Weston said his seven years working for the State Department in Iraq and Afghanistan showed him “how red the sacrifice has been for our troops. Trump’s pattern for disparaging veterans, including McCain, is “unconscionable” from a commander-in-chief, he said.
“Republicans should have the moral courage to speak out against this track record. Silence equals complicity,” Weston said.
Rep. Ben McAdams, Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, said in a statement, “I’m not interested in being any part of dragging our troops into a political tug-of-war. I honor and respect our troops and public safety officers who put their lives on the line for our safety and freedoms. Period.”
Burgess Owens, McAdams’ GOP opponent in the 4th Congressional District, questioned the veracity of the Atlantic story.
“The president has denied making those statements and multiple others have come forward to cast doubt on this ‘reporting,’” he said.
The Atlantic also referred to Trump’s 2015 comments about McCain, who spent more than five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said while seeking the Republican presidential nomination. “I like people who weren’t captured.”
In 2018, Romney, R-Utah, chastised Trump for the denigrating remarks he again made about McCain in a series of tweets. Asked about the tweets, the president told reporters then that he was “very unhappy” that McCain voted against repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act in 2017.
“I was never a fan of John McCain, and I never will be,” Trump said.
Shortly after the Atlantic story appeared Thursday, Trump posted on Twitter that he was never a big fan of McCain but never called him a loser, “and swear on whatever, or whoever, I was asked to swear on, that I never called our great fallen soldiers anything other than HEROES.
“This is more made up Fake News given by disgusting & jealous failures in a disgraceful attempt to influence the 2020 Election!”
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden declared Trump “unfit” for the presidency on Friday, delivering an impassioned reaction to the Atlantic report.
Voice cracking, Biden told reporters that “you know in your gut” Trump’s comments, if true, are “deplorable.”
“I’ve just never been as disappointed, in my whole career, with a leader that I’ve worked with, president or otherwise,” Biden added. “If the article is true — and it appears to be, based on other things he’s said — it is absolutely damning. It is a disgrace.”
He added that “the president should humbly apologize to every Gold Star mother and father, to every Blue Star family that he’s denigrated. ... Who the heck does he think he is?”
The former vice president often speaks about his pride for his late son Beau’s service in the Delaware Army National Guard. As he spoke, Biden grew angry, raising his voice to rebut Trump’s alleged comments.
“When my son was an assistant U.S. attorney and he volunteered to go to Kosovo when the war was going on, as a civilian, he wasn’t a sucker,” Biden said. “When my son volunteered to join the United States military as the attorney general, he went to Iraq for a year, won the Bronze Star and other commendations, he wasn’t a sucker!”
Contributing: Associated Press