Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie shrugged off some of President Trump’s past disparaging comments made about US prisoners of war as “just politics.”
On Sunday, Wilkie was first asked by CNN’s Dana Bash if he had ever personally heard the president, as The Atlantic reported this week, call Americans who died in war losers and suckers. The secretary replied, “Absolutely not.”
Bash played a 2015 video clip of Trump ripping John McCain, calling him a “loser.” In the video, Trump said McCain was “not a war hero” because he was captured during the Vietnam War, adding, “I like people that weren’t captured.”
The host then asked Wilke: “Listening to that, the way he disparaged, not just John McCain, but all prisoners of war, do you understand why people might find the details of these stories we’re hearing now believable?”
Wilke responded, saying that the now-deceased former senator was a friend and adding that both McCain and Trump had helped him advance his career. But when the secretary started excusing away Trump’s attacks as “politics,” Bash corrected him.
“But, Mr. Secretary, this isn’t about politics,” the host said. “This is about — [Trump] denigrated not just John McCain, but [Trump] said, ‘I like people who weren’t captured.’ He denigrated prisoners of war… Is that acceptable?”
Wilke again made excuses for the president, saying, “Well, it’s politics. It’s the heat of a campaign.”
The secretary blew past Bash’s third follow-up question on the topic when she asked if Wilke wished Trump hadn’t made the disparaging remarks by boasting about the president’s alleged accomplishments that “have been beneficial for veterans.”
— Peter Wade (@brooklynmutt) September 6, 2020
As Trump sends out allies to defend him against The Atlantic’s reporting more media outlets have corroborated the story. CNN, the AP, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and even — to the dismay of some at Fox News — the Trump-friendly network has confirmed most of what Jeffrey Goldberg originally reported.
Whether or not this controversy sticks and makes a difference come November might hinge on the sources themselves going public, although they have so far remained anonymous. But according to Goldberg, this story is not going away. As he told CNN on Sunday, “I would fully expect more reporting to come out about this and more confirmation and new pieces of information in the coming days and weeks.”