General John Kelly, who served the Trump administration from 2017 until 2019, confirmed details of a damning 2020 article in The Atlantic as well as other offensive remarks made by Mr Trump while he was president.
The article, written by Jeffrey Goldberg, claimed that Mr Trump refused to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018 as it would ruin his hair, and did not understand the value of honouring the US war dead.
According to sources from the article, he said: “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” At the time Mr Trump dismissed the story as “fake” and that he considered the fallen “absolute heroes”.
But in a statement to CNN, Mr Kelly confirmed several details of the story on the record and said the former president was unable to understand why the American public held respect for former prisoners of war and those shot down in combat.
“What can I add that has not already been said?” he said.
“A person that thinks those who defend their country in uniform, or are shot down or seriously wounded in combat, or spend years being tortured as POWs are all ‘suckers’ because ‘there is nothing in it for them.’
“A person that did not want to be seen in the presence of military amputees because ‘it doesn’t look good for me.’
“A person who… rants that our most precious heroes who gave their lives in America’s defense are ‘losers’ and wouldn’t visit their graves in France.
“A person that has no idea what America stands for and has no idea what America is all about. There is nothing more that can be said. God help us.”
Mr Trump has been known for expressing disdain for those who have been captured in combat while serving in the military, having once claimed that the late US Senator John McCain – who was taken as a POW during the Vietnam War was “not a war hero”.
While running for the Republican nomination for president in 2015, Mr Trump discussed Senator McCain’s own unsuccessful run, saying: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he got captured.
“I like people who weren’t captured.”
His most recent controversy involving members of the armed forces comes following remarks made on his social media platform Truth Social, in which he suggested that retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, should be executed for treason.
In his statement to CNN, Mr Kelly also condemned the comments made about Mr Milley, who he described as “a selfless warrior who has served his country for 40 years in peacetime and war”.
His confirmation also tallies with another recent story in The Atlantic, a profile of Mr Milley – also by Mr Goldberg – in which Trump reportedly insulted severely wounded Army Captain Luis Avila, saying: “Why do you bring people like that here? No one wants to see that, the wounded.”
The statement by Mr Kelly to CNN comes shortly after another former aide to Mr Trump, Cassidy Hutchinson, told the outlet that the former president was “the most grave threat we will face to our democracy in our lifetime, and potentially in American history.”
CNN said that when they reached out to Mr Trump’s team about the statement, without naming Mr Kelly, it issued a response once again disparaging Mr Milley, who was not involved in their original story.