Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden declared President Donald Trump "unfit" for the presidency on Friday, delivering an impassioned reaction to a report that Trump - who never served in uniform - allegedly mocked American war dead.
The president and his allies have dismissed the report in The Atlantic as false.
The allegations, sourced anonymously, describe multiple offensive comments by the president toward fallen and captured US service members, including calling World War I dead at an American military cemetery in France "losers" and "suckers" in 2018.
The reported comments, many of which were confirmed independently by The Associated Press, are shining a fresh light on Trump's previous public disparagement of American troops and military families. That opens a new political vulnerability for the president less than two months from Election Day.
Voice cracking, Biden told reporters that "you know in your gut" Trump's comments, if true, are "deplorable." "I've just never been as disappointed, in my whole career, with a leader that I've worked with, president or otherwise," Biden added.
"If the article is true - and it appears to be, based on other things he's said - it is absolutely damning. It is a disgrace." He added that "the president should humbly apologise to every Gold Star mother and father, to every Blue Star family that he's denigrated. ... Who the heck does he think he is?" Trump, in the Oval Office, said no apology was necessary, because it was a "fake story." Trump was alleged to have made the comments in November 2018, as he was set to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery during a trip to France. The White House said the visit was scrubbed because foggy weather made the helicopter trip from Paris too risky and a 90-minute drive was deemed infeasible.
Speaking Friday in the Oval Office, Trump denied ever uttering such comments: "It was a terrible thing that somebody could say the kind of things - and especially to me 'cause I've done more for the military than almost anyone anybody else." Later, in a press briefing, Trump suggested the source of the story was his former chief of staff, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly. "It could have been a guy like John Kelly," Trump told reporters, saying his former top aide "was unable to handle the pressure of this job." Biden's critique was personal.
Returning to Washington from a Thursday visit to Pennsylvania, Trump told reporters that the Atlantic report was "a disgraceful situation" by a "terrible magazine." "I would be willing to swear on anything that I never said that about our fallen heroes," Trump told the reporters, gathered on the tarmac in the dark.