CNN published an exclusive statement from Trump’s longest-serving White House chief of staff, John Kelly, on Monday, purporting to “confirm” the Atlantic’s election-season hit piece from three years ago. The media, it seems, is going to run the exact same inference campaign it conducted in 2020.
Trump, according to the anonymously sourced story from Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg, disparaged the graves of WWI veterans on a trip to France. According to The Atlantic, the president canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery outside of Paris in 2018 because of his hair.
Though numerous outlets including NBC News, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Axios, and The New York Times contend that Kelly had “confirmed” the stories, a closer reading tells us something different. “What can I add that has not already been said?” the former chief of staff told CNN’s Jake Tapper, prefacing his statement before mentioning the alleged Aisne-Marne incident. That is not a confirmation, but a retelling.
“[Trump] blamed the rain for the last-minute decision, saying ‘the helicopter couldn’t fly’ and that the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him there. Neither claim was true,” Goldberg wrote without a single on-the-record source three years ago.
Federalist Editor-in-Chief Mollie Hemingway covered the saga in her book on the 2020 election, “Rigged: How the Media, Big Tech, and the Democrats Seized Our Elections.“
“In fact, both claims were true,” she wrote. “A visit by helicopter was deemed unsafe by military officials because of low cloud cover, and so was a drive through crowded Paris streets and the winding country roads from Paris to the site of the cemetery about fifty miles outside of the city.”
Even John Bolton, who was Trump’s National Security Adviser during the trip and who later capitalized on anti-Trump sentiment upon leaving the White House, disputed The Atlantic’s account.
“The weather was bad, and Kelly and I spoke about whether to travel as planned to the Chateau-Thierry Belleau Wood monuments and nearby American Cemeteries, where many US World War I dead were buried,” Bolton wrote in his White House memoir.
Marine One’s crew was saying that bad visibility could make it imprudent to chopper to the cemetery. The ceiling was not too low for Marines to fly in combat, but flying POTUS was obviously something very different. If a motorcade was necessary, it could take between ninety and a hundred and twenty minutes each way, along roads that were not exactly freeways, posing an unacceptable risk that we could not get the President out of France quickly enough in case of an emergency. It was a straightforward decision to cancel the visit but very hard for a Marine like Kelly to recommend, having originally been the one to suggest Belleau Wood… Trump agreed, and it was decided that others would drive to the cemetery instead.
But “Trump,” according to Goldberg’s tale, “rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead.”
“Why should I go to that cemetery?” Goldberg’s anonymous sources claimed Trump said. “It’s filled with losers.”
Goldberg also published allegations from anonymous sources that Trump issued more derogatory comments about deceased Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, telling White House staff in 2018 “we’re not going to support that loser’s funeral.”
Kelly’s statement Monday marks the only time a source has gone on record to support Goldberg’s allegations, which, at this point, one might conclude were probably planted by Kelly in the first place.
While Goldberg’s story can now count one anti-Trump source on record — offering a “confirmation” that wasn’t actually a real confirmation at all — nearly two dozen officials from the Trump White House reportedly called the hit piece false.