Going on record to confirm stories of Donald Trump’s contempt for wounded and killed US soldiers and their families, and commenting on the former president’s suggestion a top general should be killed, the former marines general and White House chief of staff John Kelly took in Trump’s commanding lead in the Republican primary and said: “God help us.”
“What can I add that has not already been said?” Kelly, who was also homeland security secretary under Trump, told CNN on Monday.
Much of what has already been said about Trump’s attitude to the US military is widely thought to have been sourced to Kelly, for press reports or stories in books.
The general, whose son Robert Kelly was killed on duty in Afghanistan, confirmed it all and more on the network.
Kelly said Trump was “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 prisoners of war are all ‘suckers’ because ‘there is nothing in it for them’.”
Trump often attacked John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and an opponent within the GOP, as a “loser”. As a navy pilot during the Vietnam war, the future Arizona senator was shot down, captured and tortured. In 2015, during his first White House campaign, Trump said McCain was “not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
In a widely read 2020 story by Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, Trump was also described as telling aides the former president George HW Bush was a loser, because he was shot down while serving as a navy pilot in the second world war.
Kelly continued and said Trump was “a person that did not want to be seen in the presence of military amputees because ‘it doesn’t look good for me’”.
Trump’s dismissive attitude to wounded soldiers was reported by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser in their book The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021.
Seeking a military parade in Washington, Trump was quoted as resisting Kelly’s description of wounded soldiers as heroes and saying: “Look, I don’t want any wounded guys in the parade … It doesn’t look good for me.”
On CNN, Kelly wasn’t done, adding that Trump was “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”.
Gold Star families are those who have lost a member killed on active duty. In 2016, during his presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton, Trump clashed with the parents of Humayun Khan, an army captain killed in Iraq in 2004. He also attracted controversy over a call with a Gold Star mother in 2017, a call Kelly then defended, and was revealed to have attended a reception for Gold Star families in late 2020 despite having tested positive for Covid-19.
The story of Trump refusing to visit first world war graves in France in 2018 was also reported in the Atlantic.
And still, Kelly wasn’t done.
Trump, he said, was “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.
“A person that has no idea what America stands for and has no idea what America is all about. A person who cavalierly suggests that a selfless warrior who has served his country for 40 years in peacetime and war should lose his life for treason – in expectation that someone will take action.”
Last month, Trump responded to a profile of the army general Mark Milley, the chair of the joint chiefs of staff who was widely reported to have resisted Trump’s wilder impulses towards the end of his time in power, by saying Milley should be executed for treason.
Last week, in a speech marking his retirement, Milley seemed to refer to Trump when he said the US armed forces served the constitution, not “wannabe dictators”.
Kelly told CNN Trump was “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.
“There is nothing more that can be said. God help us.”
Running to return to power, Trump leads Republican polling by vast margins in key states and national surveys.
He does so while facing 91 criminal charges – for election subversion, retention of classified information and hush money payments – and civil cases including a fraud trial in New York and a defamation trial in the same city, arising from a rape allegation a judge said was “substantially true”.
CNN said it contacted Trump’s campaign for comment. It responded, CNN said, “by insulting the character and credibility of … Milley, who had nothing to do with this story”.