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Senior Republican says Trump's attack on military leaders gave US enemies 'an opening'

Posted September 9, 2020 1:03 p.m. EDT

— The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee criticized President Donald Trump for providing "an opening to America's adversaries" with his recent comments accusing Pentagon leaders he appointed of seeking to fight wars to boost the profits of defense firms.

"As a matter of fact, I've been a little dismayed at what's happened the past few days," Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas said Wednesday when asked about Trump's comments at an event hosted by Defense News.

"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," he added.

Thornberry is retiring at the end of the term and has been willing to criticize the Trump administration over policies including diverting military funds to pay for the border wall.

"You can say well their judgment is wrong or they think too much alike, there's some legitimate issues to discuss. But their motivation, their patriotism, is to me without question, these are remarkable individuals," Thornberry said, adding, "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."

The Pentagon has yet to comment directly on the President's comments.

The Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. James McConville, declined to comment directly on the Trump's statement on Tuesday but rejected the idea that military commanders are influenced by defense firms.

"I can assure the American people that the senior leaders would only recommend sending our troops to combat when it's required in national security and the last resort. We take this very, very seriously in how we make our recommendations and I think that's all I can really say on that, I feel strongly about that," he said at an event hosted by Defense One.

McConville also noted that many of the top military leaders at the Pentagon "have sons and daughters who have gone to combat or may be in combat right now."

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows appeared to attempt to walk back Trump's comments during an interview with Fox Business on Tuesday, saying the President's accusations against the "top people at the Pentagon" were not directed specifically at the Defense Department's top officials like Secretary of Defense Mark Esper or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.

"Those comments are not directed specifically at them as much as it is what we all know happens in Washington, DC," Meadows said, saying "That comment was more directed about the military industrial complex."

Thornberry also defended Fox News correspondent Jennifer Griffin, who Trump tweeted should be fired after she confirmed some of the reporting in The Atlantic magazine that Trump had disparaged service members.

"Her integrity is as impeccable as anybody I've ever worked with," he said.

Thornberry later said that Trump "has definitely supported rebuilding the military," and had helped undo some of the damage done by cuts to the Pentagon's budget during the Obama administration.

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