In several conversations since the story was published on Thursday, Trump vigorously denied having made the comments and touting what he had done for the military. Two people who spoke to him said it was clearly a sign of how much the story had resonated with Trump – and his fear that it might affect his support in the military.
When the story first appeared on Thursday, Trump was outraged during his flight from Pennsylvania and asked the aides to deny it. That included sending his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to Air Force One to tell reporters it wasn’t. His angry reaction prompted officials to mobilize the massive pushback effort that began Thursday evening.
At the weekend, however, Trump seemed more disappointed than outraged by the allegations he had made against him on the basis of talks.
On Tuesday morning, Meadows claimed Trump was not referring to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, a former top lobbyist for Raytheon, or Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley when he made the comments – although it is not clear who Trump is would have referenced instead.
“The president is just saying that some senior career politicians and Pentagon officials over the decades have been unwilling to end our endless wars,” a White House official told CNN. “This President stands with our soldiers at the front and our great generals and wants to end these conflicts responsibly in order to bring our troops home.”
Trump’s relationship with Esper has deteriorated significantly, and CNN has reported that he will almost certainly be replaced if Trump is re-elected.
Nor is it clear how Trump’s downgrading of the “military industrial complex” fits in with his efforts to broker arms sales overseas – a central element of his foreign policy – including in countries like Saudi Arabia.
For some, however, it was evident that rejections from people who might stifle history have not occurred, including former chief of staff John Kelly or Joe Dunford, who was then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Kelly and Dunford were traveling to Aisne Marne Cemetery instead of Trump when his trip was canceled due to rain.
This story has been updated with additional reports.