US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday that Donald Trump respects American troops and veterans after a magazine report said the president had called fallen US military personnel buried in Europe “losers” and declined to visit an American cemetery because he thought it unimportant. “President Trump has the highest respect and admiration for our nation’s military members, veterans and families. That is why he has fought for greater pay and more funding for our armed forces,” Esper said in a statement. Trump on Thursday strongly denied the report from The Atlantic magazine. The Atlantic reported that Trump, a Republican running for re-election who has touted his record helping US veterans, had referred to Marines buried in an American cemetery near Paris as “losers” and declined to visit in 2018 because of concern the rain that day would mess up his hair. The Atlantic report was sourced to four people with first-hand knowledge of the discussion that day. “To think that I would make statements negative to our military and fallen heroes when nobody has done what I’ve done” for the US armed forces, Trump said. “It’s a total lie. … It’s a disgrace.” It is absolutely damnable Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden The president said he did not go to the cemetery because weather prevented a helicopter flight. The alternative, a long drive, would have meant going through very busy areas of Paris, and the Secret Service objected, he said. A senior defence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Esper had not heard of the allegations made in The Atlantic until today. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who is leading Trump in national polls ahead of the November 3 election , said that, if true, the comments were “deplorable.” “It is absolutely damnable,” Biden said. “It’s a disgrace.” Trump reportedly disparaged US soldiers killed in World War I as ‘losers’ Former national security adviser John Bolton, who published a book earlier this year that was heavily critical of Trump , said the alleged remarks sounded accurate. “I have not heard anybody say, ‘Oh, that doesn’t sound like the Donald Trump I know,’” Bolton said in a Bloomberg Radio interview on Friday. He said the remarks may have stemmed from Trump’s scepticism of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan . “He was prone to say from time to time: ‘What did they get out of it? What was the worth of the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan?’” Bolton said. “That is a kind of insensitivity that Trump does have, there’s no doubt about it.” There is increasing concern that Trump is politicising America’s military, which is meant to be apolitical, ahead of the election. Those concerns came to a head in the past month after Trump threatened to deploy active duty troops to quell civil unrest in US cities over the killing of George Floyd , who died on May 25 after a Minneapolis policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.