Donald Trump’s spokeswoman said the candidate was referring to Iraqi soldiers. | AP Photo
Donald Trump rang in the Army’s 241st birthday in unusual fashion on Tuesday — by calling attention to theft of government funds by American soldiers in Iraq.
“Iraq, crooked as hell. How about bringing baskets of money — millions and millions of dollars — and handing it out?,” Trump said at an evening rally. “I want to know who were the soldiers that had that job, because I think they’re living very well right now, whoever they may be.”
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Trump appeared to be referring to the many known instances in which members of the American military members skimmed U.S. government cash intended for reconstruction projects or otherwise engaged in theft or bribery. According to a 2015 report by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, “at least 115 enlisted personnel and military officers [were] convicted since 2005 of committing theft, bribery, and contract-rigging crimes valued at $52 million during their deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said the comments did not refer to theft by Americans. “Mr. Trump was referring to Iraqi soldiers,” she wrote in an email.
But the last time Trump touched on the subject, during a rally last fall in New Hampshire, he also appeared to suggest that American soldiers had stolen U.S. government money — both in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At a Sept. 30 really in Keene, during remarks on Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq and Iraqi government corruption, Trump segued abruptly into discussion of the cash spent by American authorities occupying Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They didn’t really want to fight for Iraq because Iraq is a corrupt government, you know. Remember when they were handing 50 million dollars of cash? Cash! They were going through Afghanistan paying off, I want to know who were the soldiers that are carrying cash of 50 million dollars? Cash! How stupid are we?,” Trump said. “I wouldn’t be surprised those soldiers, I wouldn’t be surprised if the cash didn’t get there, I have to be honest.”
Hicks did not immediately respond to a follow-up question about the September remarks.
Trump has painted himself as a champion of soldiers and veterans, and it is unusual for American politicians on the campaign trail to call out members of the military, one of the country’s most popular institutions, for their transgressions.
Trump made the remarks in Greensboro, North Carolina, about 90 miles northwest of Fort Bragg, one of the country’s largest and best-known Army bases. The remarks came 241 years to the day after the Continental Army was formed on June 14, 1775.