Former Republican White House Aide and Navy SEAL James Waters Speaks Out Against Trump

Credit: Trump; Getty Images

Following this weekend’s DNC, Republican nominee Donald Trump has fired off a series of hostile remarks towards Khizr and Ghazala Khan, parents of a Muslim-American soldier who was killed in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom who criticized his policies at the convention. Ignoring pleas from fellow party members, Trump has not backed down from his words, which mocked Mrs. Khan and alleged her silence at the event was due to not being “allowed” to speak alongside her husband.

The back-and-forth inspired a committee of 40 veterans to demand an apology from Trump in a joint letter sent on Monday via the U.S. Postal Service. The group includes Congressman Seth Moulton, Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer, founder of the Headstrong project Zach Iscol, along with Gold Star mothers, fathers, and widows.

"To the military and veterans community, nothing is more sacred or honored than our Gold Star parents," says the letter, which was printed in The Washington Post. "Their personal sacrifice, the loss of a child, is the unimaginable. This week, when you chose to disparage the family of an American soldier who gave his life in combat, you chose to disparage all of us." 

“During his campaign Mr. Trump has liked to say that he’s got all of the military in his corner,” says James Waters, a former George W. Bush administration White House aide and Navy SEAL. “I can just tell you flat out, that is not correct.” In a phone conversation, Waters discussed the goals for the letter with Men's Journal, as well as his personal opinions of the Republican nominee.

How did the committee presented in this letter come together?

It came together quickly over the weekend as the situation unfolded. There are people I don’t know personally, as well as old friends. We’re intentionally not affiliated with any political campaign, because we just wanted to make sure our voice was heard and not caught up in the war between two sides. These are the families of our fallen. I think that all of us who are on that letter have brothers or sisters who have made the ultimate sacrifice. They did that for our nation. We know these people and we know that pain that these families have been through. When someone is lost, there is a mentality in the military that you are always there for those families. I don’t know the Khan family. Never met them and never knew their son. But while we don’t know them personally, we all admire Mr. Khan’s poise and forcefulness and not allowing himself to get bullied by Mr. Trump. We stand in support of him.

What inspired you personally to speak out on this matter and add your name to the petition?

I have very purposefully not gotten publicly involved in the political discourse up until this point. I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the course of the last few months, as the election has evolved. I think, like a lot of other veterans, I felt that I should just stay on the sidelines. We pride ourselves on being silent professionals, and the public forum is at conflict with that. But this was something of a tipping point. We think it’s important as veterans that we let them know that we stand with them and their families no matter what. We needed to make sure that Mr. Trump knew that his bullying of one of our own is not going to be tolerated. Enough is enough.

Tell us about your service.

I served in the White House under George W. Bush and decided to go into the military. I saw the wars started in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I was firmly supportive of them then and our President. I joined the military because I was just sitting at my desk, working as a staffer, and I felt there was more that I should do. When President Bush was reelected, I decided to put my money where my mouth was. The war was controversial in 2004, so I said if I am going to support it, I should serve. One of the key values that I wanted to uphold there was that I was not going to be political while I was serving. I was on deployment during the transition from Bush to Obama, and despite my political affiliations, I was there no matter what. We were explicit in the fact that we didn’t include any active duty members of the military. Because when you are serving you are serving our government, no matter what.

What are your personal feelings toward Donald Trump as the Republican nominee?

Privately, I feel that Mr. Trump is not a great candidate. I think this situation speaks quite well to Trump’s blatant lack of fitness for office. There are a few reasons why I say that. Striking out at a Gold Star mother rather than address the specific criticism levied by Mr. Khan at the DNC. It gives a window to his volatile temperament, thin skin, and rash decision-making. You don’t lash out at people rather than exercising the calm leadership required by an American president. There is also a clear lack of respect for anybody but himself. There is a clear inclination to bully people who are less powerful, it's not something that a president does. Finally, to us veterans I think his statements show a lack of understanding of the role that American soldiers and their families play in the world. Referring to sacrifices, and comparing them to his business is just ridiculous.

One thing that is extremely clear to me is that what these comments show is Donald Trump has a complete lack understanding of the world. And that lack of understanding of the world would endanger not only our nation but also our troops abroad. To me that’s an objective statement. That’s another reason I wanted to get involved.

What would you like to see as a result of this letter?

There’s obviously a lot of division in Washington, D.C., right now. This particular item should be without question, and the veteran community has not been impressed by our leaders during this process. Somebody needs to let Donald Trump know that these actions and statements are not acceptable. Everyone should be unified on this. Donald Trump should apologize. Until he does that, us veterans are going to unite in a non-partisan way to keep the pressure on.