Anonymous Sources are Not Good Enough to Take Down Trump

Gen. John Kelly, Donald Trump’s former Chief of Staff, during his confirmation hearing for Secretary of Homeland Security,
Gen. John Kelly, Donald Trump’s former Chief of Staff, during his confirmation hearing for Secretary of Homeland Security,

I am part of a proud military family. During World War II, my dad spent more than two years as a platoon sergeant with a U.S. Army anti-aircraft radar platoon during the Solomons Campaign in the Battle of the Pacific. My father-in-law served in the Navy for 30 years and spanning three wars – World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. I myself have served on active duty as a Coast Guard Officer for ten years, followed by another sixteen in the Reserves. As a JAG officer, I was a Special Assistant United States Attorney and participated in the prosecution of several major, seaborne drug smuggling cases. I also had the privilege of serving during the Reagan and Bush administrations, entailing extensive time away from my home, wife, and two young kids. My son, a Navy Surface Warfare Officer, served seven years on active duty, including eight months in the Al Anbar Province in Iraq. His greatest accomplishment: “I got all my guys home in one piece,” he told me.


My family’s story of service is nothing special. It mirrors millions of American military families. Families who saw their parents, siblings, and children wave goodbye and do an often difficult and dangerous job with little complaint. Like most veterans, none of us were ever heroes, but we are certainly not “losers” or “suckers.”


Jeffrey Goldberg’s chilling article in The Atlantic concerning President Trump’s insulting remarks about military service strikes an unavoidable credibility roadblock. The story was then confirmed by Fox NewsCNN, the Associated PressThe New York Times, and The Washington Post. Like the original story, all the confirmation pieces rely on anonymous sources. Articles based on anonymous sources are not inherently suspect. There is a long history of granting anonymity in bombshell articles, including the Watergate reporting that broke the Nixon administration’s back.


But this time, things are different. Even after Trump’s comments came to light and occupied days of media coverage, his military support persists. President Trump has a long history of disparaging anonymous or “on-background” sourcing, tarring them as “fake news” and political “witch hunts” against him. Most importantly, his core-supporters trust his word over everyone else.


So, it should be no surprise that Trump can easily wave aside the anonymous sourcing in the Goldberg piece.


Trump degrading the military is nothing new. His mockery of John McCain, a true hero, and his repeated displays of contempt for our military leaders and culture are well documented. He referred to the Joint Chiefs as “dopes and babies,” and interfered in the military’s justice system to defend a convicted war criminal. Recently, he accused senior leadership in the Pentagon of being motivated to engage in ongoing military campaigns to keep the “military-industrial complex” happy.


Many speculate (including Trump) that Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s former chief-of-staff, was the source behind The Atlantic article. One stunning passage in the piece outlines a time when Trump and Kelly visited Arlington Cemetery to pay respects to Kelly’s son, Robert Kelly, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. When the two were standing by the grave of Kelly’s son, Trump turned to Kelly and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” Kelly has remained silent, but a source for the article listed as a “four-star general” and “one of Kelly’s friends,” said the following:

“[Trump] just thinks that anyone who does anything when there’s no direct personal gain to be had is a sucker. There’s no money in serving the nation.” Kelly’s friend went on to say, “Trump can’t imagine anyone else’s pain. That’s why he would say this to the father of a fallen marine on Memorial Day in the cemetery where he’s buried.”


Sources in The Atlantic article may be anyone from the long line of former White House officials. There is McMaster, Mattis, Tillerson, Sessions, Nielsen, Coats, Bolton, Cohn, Spencer, Sondland, and Taylor, among others. Their views of Trump are lukewarm at best. There are many reasons why a news source may request anonymity. There may be a well-founded fear of retribution, causing damage to the presidency as an institution, or the simple desire to avoid appearing disloyal.


That all being said, we have reached the point where we can no longer afford the luxury of anonymity. While some say that Gen. Kelly and others’ silence is tantamount to verification, Trump has proven time and time again that this is not enough. For the American people to truly understand the depth of Trump’s depraved views of the military, there needs to be a clear and unequivocal unmasking of credible witnesses to his statements. There is too much at stake this election, and the American public deserve to hear directly from whoever has credible firsthand knowledge. The time for anonymity has passed.




Robert Kelly

A former Coast Guard JAG officer, he served in the Reagan White House Military Office as Special Assistant for Operations Policy. Following his leaving active duty, he was appointed General Counsel, Office of the Administration in the Executive Office of the President under President George H. W. Bush. He subsequently was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Drug Enforcement) also in the first Bush Administration. His private sector career was primarily focused as a corporate general counsel for technology companies serving the U.S. Intelligence Community. He was a founder and partner in CenTauri Solutions, LLC an intelligence community contractor that was acquired by Computer Sciences Corporation. He retired from the Coast Guard Reserve as a Captain with 10 years of active duty and 16 in the Reserve.


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