Already under fire being a no-show at a ceremony in France commemorating the end of World War I and at an event at Arlington National Cemetery honoring U.S. soldiers on Veterans Day, President Trump on Monday attempted to deflect criticism of his dismissive remarks about a respected retired naval commander — the man in charge of the daring raid that killed Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
In an interview with Chris Wallace that aired on Fox News on Sunday, the president appeared to mock retired Admiral William McRaven, a Navy Seal who commanded the Joint Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014, for not taking out bin Laden sooner. “Wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that, wouldn’t it have been nice?” Trump asked. He dismissed McRaven as “a Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama backer.”
Navy Admiral William McRaven
Navy Admiral William McRaven
UNITED STATES â MARCH 6: Navy Adm. William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, testifies during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on 'The U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for FY2013 and the Future Years Defense Program' on Tuesday, March 6, 2012. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
U.S. Marine Corps General James Mattis (L) and Navy Admiral William McRaven (R) testify at the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington March 5, 2013 in regard to the Defense Authorization Request for fiscal year 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: (L-R) Lance Boxer, USO CEO, aviation survival technician second class Randy Haba, and admiral William McRaven attend 52nd USO Armed Forces Gala & Gold Medal Dinner at Marriott Marquis Times Square on December 11, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for USO of Metropolitan New York)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 28: United States Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill June 28, 2011 in Washington, DC. Credited for organizing and executing Operation Neptune's Spear, the special ops raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden, McRaven has been nominated to command the United State Special Operations Command. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama greets Brigadier General Jeffrey Colt (L) as Admiral William McRaven looks on as he arrives to speak to troops at Fort Campbell in Kentucky May 6, 2011. Obama is scheduled to speak to several military units that have recently returned from duty in Afghanistan. Also during his visit, Obama privately thanked some members of the elite special forces team involved in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: MILITARY SOCIETY)
WASHINGTON, DC - June 28: Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, nominated to be admiral and commander, U.S. Special Operations Command; during the Senate Armed Services hearing on his nomination. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) waves from the gallery of the US House of Representatives prior to US President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on January 24, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. From left are: Admiral William McRaven; Jackie Bray; Michelle Obama; US astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of shot US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords; Dr. Jill Biden, wife of US Vice President Joe Biden; and Ashleigh Berg. AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Marine Corps General James Mattis (R) and Navy Admiral William McRaven (L) confer before testifying at the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington March 5, 2013, with regards to the Defense Authorization Request for fiscal year 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS BUSINESS)
Admiral William McRaven, Commander of the US Special Operations Command, speaks the panel 'Counterterrorism in 2025: What kind of fighting force will be required' during the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California on November 16, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Allen (R) waits to testify, as he sits next to Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven (C) and Army General James Thurman (L), before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to serve as the next commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, on Capitol Hill in Washington June 28, 2011. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY)
UNITED STATES ? MARCH 6: Navy Adm. William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, testifies during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on 'The U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for FY2013 and the Future Years Defense Program' on Tuesday, March 6, 2012. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Admiral William McRaven (2nd L), commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), is seated in the First Lady's box with US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) as US President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress January 24, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Former Admiral William McRaven discusses special operations and the CIA during a daylong symposium 'The President's Daily Brief' that gave insight into the delivery of intelligence to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960's. The CIA today declassified 2,500 documents from the Kennedy and Johnson years. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images)
U.S. Marine Corps General James Mattis (front L) and Navy Admiral William McRaven (front R) await to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington March 5, 2013 in regard to the Defense Authorization Request for fiscal year 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS)
Admiral William McRaven, who took over as University of Texas System Chancellor after a 37-year military career, speaks with editor Evan Smith at a Texas Tribune forum. McRaven is best known as the operation commander in the 2011 U.S. raid that captured and killed Osama Bin Laden. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 14: Bono, Tina Brown and Admiral William McRaven attend the Newsweek & The Daily Beast 2012 Hero Summit at the United States Institute of Peace on November 14, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images)
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As a protest against White House policies, McRaven — a frequent critic of Trump — earlier this year wrote an open letter asking the administration to revoke his security clearance. He called Trump’s attacks on the press “perhaps the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.”
Trump’s comments were reminiscent of others he has made in denigrating decorated members of the military, most notably Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war. “He was a hero because he got captured,” Trump said in 2015 of McCain, who died in August. “I like people who weren’t captured.”
On Monday, Trump tried to distract from his implied criticism of McRaven by blaming President Clinton and taking credit for warning about bin Laden before 9/11.
Of course we should have captured Osama Bin Laden long before we did. I pointed him out in my book just BEFORE the attack on the World Trade Center. President Clinton famously missed his shot. We paid Pakistan Billions of Dollars & they never told us he was living there. Fools!..
In a statement released to CNN, McRaven — whose name was briefly floated in 2016 as a possible running mate for Hillary Clinton — disputed Trump’s characterization of him as a political opponent.
“I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else. I am a fan of President Obama and President George W. Bush, both of whom I worked for. I admire all presidents, regardless of their political party, who uphold the dignity of the office and who use that office to bring the nation together in challenging times,” the statement read.
The back and forth came at a precarious time for Trump, who bills himself as the most pro-military president ever. He faces criticism not only over his failure to attend the military ceremonies but over the deployment — widely regarded as a political stunt — of over 5,000 troops on the border with Mexico, as well as his call to stop counting votes in Florida’s Senate and gubernatorial races before all military mail-in ballots had been tallied. Opponents have also pointed out that halfway through his term, the president has not visited U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I think there’s a certain honesty to what’s happening now,” retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal told CNN on Monday. “The president didn’t go to Arlington cemetery for Veterans’ Day, and maybe that’s honest, because if you really don’t care, it would be dishonest to pretend that you do.”
Since taking office, Trump has increased military spending, allocating $717 billion for wide-ranging expenditures related to national defense. In June, he signed the Veterans Choice Program Extension, an update of a 2014 law that lets some veterans continue to receive health care through the private sector. Even so, Trump’s support among military personnel continues to drop. In a Military Times poll released in October, 44 percent of active-duty soldiers said they had a favorable view of the commander in chief, while 43 percent said the opposite.
As he campaigned around the country ahead of the midterm elections, Trump regularly boasted about his backing from and support for the U.S. military.
“Nobody has been better at the military,” Trump said in an interview last month with the Associated Press, referring to his policies as president. Before entering politics, Trump did not serve in uniform, avoiding the draft during the Vietnam War with a diagnosis of a “bone spur” in his ankle.