Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Monday confirmed past reports that then-President Donald Trump insulted wounded veterans in private conversations with staff and called fallen troops “losers” for sacrificing their lives for their country.
In a statement provided to CNN, Kelly — a former Marine Corps general who also served as Trump’s Homeland Security secretary — expressed disgust for the former commander-in-chief’s past actions and recent comments attacking outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.
The 73-year-old Kelly told CNN that Trump is “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.’”
He also said that Trump did not want to be photographed in public with military amputees, with the former president reportedly saying, “it doesn’t look good for me.”
Reports of Trump skipping out on military cemetery visits, banning wounded troops from official White House events and mocking prisoners of war and troops killed in action have circulated for years, but not with any confirmation from an official as high ranking in Trump’s inner circles as Kelly.
With Trump vying for a return to the White House next year, Kelly called him “a person that has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law.”
The news comes less than two weeks after Trump took to social media to attack Milley, who retired from the military this weekend, for speaking to Chinese authorities in the tumultuous days following the 2020 presidential election.
Milley has said the conversations were routine interactions to keep lines of communications open during a presidential transition. Trump labeled them “an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been death.”
Milley said publicly last week that he had to contract extra security for his family following Trump’s comments. In his departure speech, the Army general reminded troops that “we don’t take an oath to a wannabe dictator” and urged them to stay focused on their responsibilities to the country.
Trump has denied disparaging veterans in the past. In a statement to the Washington Post on Monday night, Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung dismissed Kelly’s comments and said the president’s former chief of staff “has totally clowned himself with these debunked stories he’s made up because he didn’t serve his president well.”
Trump has fought publicly with multiple former members of his senior staff during and after his presidency. Kelly did not say why he served for two full years in the Trump administration after hearing Trump’s insults regarding military members.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.