I was appalled at the allegations against President Donald Trump leveled in a recent article in The Atlantic. The article claimed that the president referred to American soldiers killed in World War I and buried in France as "losers" and "suckers." It also offered that the president is disdainful in general of military personnel who have been captured by the enemy or killed in combat.
The article cited four anonymous sources, each of whom claimed to be physically close enough to the president to have heard him make these awful statements. Fox News and CNN have both independently confirmed the accuracy of the allegations.
Nevertheless, we are eight weeks from Election Day, and so the president has forcefully and unconditionally denied making these statements. He has produced statements by more than a dozen others who were also physically close to him at the time, and they have denied hearing anything of the sort.
Whom to believe? Why dwell on this? Here is the backstory.
I have been a friend of Donald Trump since 1987 through the New Jersey legal community in which his sister and I were active as judges. Trump and I have also known each other through my on-air television work at Fox News. Trump enjoys a personal familiarity with many of my Fox colleagues and me. To this day, he and I speak on the phone from time to time over matters public and private.
To be Trump's friend does not immunize one from Trump's wrath. On the contrary, he expects total loyalty, particularly from those in the media, and he will not hesitate to attack his friends publicly should he hear anything from them that displeases him.
I am loyal to my friends, but foremost I am loyal to the truth. So, when special counsel Robert Mueller made allegations about the unlawfulness of Trump's behavior in the White House, it was my job at Fox to explain that the allegations offered that Trump committed numerous criminal acts of obstruction of justice while president.
When I explained on Fox how these allegations would result in indictments for anyone other than a sitting president, Trump took to Twitter to attack my intellect and my honesty. It bothered me for only a few hours, because I know him well.
True to form, Trump called my cell and offered that he and I had some ancient dispute and it would be best if we forgot it! We then laughed and proceeded into the reason for his call.
I provide this brief personal background as a setting for an analysis of this "losers" and "suckers" allegation. It appears more likely than not that he did say these things. I say this because — for better or worse — Donald Trump is unfiltered. He often says what first comes to his mind without thinking of the likely consequences — including the hurt — his words could produce. And he believes he can repair any hurt with more words.
In all the settings in which it is now alleged that he disparaged the military dead, only one person was continuously and conspicuously with him, Gen. John Kelly. Kelly is a retired four-star Marine Corps general and the father of a young Marine killed while serving valiantly in Afghanistan. Trump is also alleged to have disparaged the younger Kelly in the presence of his still-grieving father.
The elder Kelly — who was the White House chief of staff when Trump's "losers" and "suckers" comments and similar comments are alleged to have been made — is the quintessential career soldier.
But his silence is deafening. He either heard these horrible words from Trump's mouth or he didn't. You can judge for yourself what his silence means. To me, it means he did hear this stuff but his Marine Corps sense of duty not to disparage the commander in chief who trusted him outweighs his public duty to reveal known faults in the president's thinking.
Trump's denials have been both ferocious and frivolous. He has attacked media figures who are merely reporting what credible sources have told them. He also denied calling the late Sen. John McCain "a loser" because he was captured, confined and tortured by the North Vietnamese. Many networks — including Fox — then ran clips of Trump calling McCain a loser, and Trump stopped denying it.
Then, as if to pour gasoline on this fire, an unprovoked Trump offered this gem: "I'm not saying the military's in love with me, the soldiers are, the top people in the Pentagon probably aren't because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy."
The military-industrial complex is a serious problem that is bankrupting the government, and Trump himself has signed off on the largest defense budgets in history. But Congress buys the hardware, not the generals. Under the Constitution, Congress declares war and presidents wage war. Generals do as presidents tell them. The last congressional declaration of war was on Dec. 8, 1941; yet, the U.S. has fought in more than a dozen undeclared wars since then — all by presidential command.
In the history of the U.S., no general has started a war. Trump himself has ordered his generals to attack Iran, Iraq and Syria without congressional authorization. None of the generals did so on his own.
Does the president have a cavalier attitude about the truth? Does he mean what he says? Is his presidency — in his own mind — showmanship or reality? I don't know the answers to these questions, and it troubles me to be asking them. But the voters will answer in November.