WASHINGTON ― The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee said Wednesday that President Donald Trump was “wrong” to say Pentagon leaders want to go to war to satisfy the defense industry.
On the defensive since a bombshell report in The Atlantic that Trump disparaged fallen service members, the president has, in recent days, called for a Fox News reporter who corroborated part of the report to be fired. Trump also suggested military leaders may not like him because they want to boost the profits of defense firms.
Asked at the Defense News Conference whether those remarks were appropriate for a commander in chief to make, HASC ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said: “No.”
“And as a matter of fact, I’ve been a little dismayed at what’s happened the past few days," added Thornberry, who is retiring from Congress when his term concludes at the end of the year. “I know the president says things for effect a lot, but to have a commander in chief question the motivations of military leaders and basically say they’re in it for themselves is wrong, and it gives our adversaries an opening. Even if you think it, you shouldn’t say it.”
On Monday, Trump suggested Pentagon leaders aren’t backing him because they want to wage war to support companies that develop weapons. (Trump has acted to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and has championed the defense industry as an economic engine.)
“I’m not saying the military’s in love with me. The soldiers are,” Trump said Monday during a news conference. “The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”
Thornberry said the accusation was “wrong on the substance,” and he defended Pentagon leaders as longtime servants of the public.
“You can say, ‘Well, their judgment is wrong’ or ‘They think too much alike.’ There are some legitimate issues to discuss,” Thornberry said. “But their motivation, their patriotism, is to me without question. These are remarkable individuals. And another thing I’ve learned over the last 26 years is the people who have to send folks into war are the most reluctant to go to war because they’ve seen it themselves, they’ve experienced it themselves, they know the cost.”
Since the story first published in The Atlantic alleged Trump referred to fallen and captured U.S. service members as “losers” and “suckers,” the president and his supporters have issued repeated denials. However, The Associated Press, The Washington Post, The New York Times and Fox News have all independently confirmed elements of the report, which was anonymously sourced.
On Wednesday, Thornberry defended Fox News' national security correspondent, Jennifer Griffin, who Trump demanded be fired in a Sept. 4 tweet. Thornberry wouldn’t speculate on the veracity of Griffin’s sources, but vouched her integrity.
“Jennifer Griffin is as professional, and her integrity is as impeccable as anybody I’ve ever worked with,” Thornberry said. “So if she says, ‘Somebody told me this,’ you can count on it. Somebody told her that. She is reporting what she has discovered. Again, that doesn’t go to the underlying ― if that person told her the truth ― but what she does, the way she does it, what she says, is impeccable.”
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.