FIRST ON FOX: Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn is demanding Ohio Senate candidate Mike Gibbons apologize for allegedly insulting the military after an explosive exchange with fellow candidate Josh Mandel last week.
"Recently an opponent of Josh, Mr. Mike Gibbons, made a statement to the effect that those of us who have served our country haven't worked," Flynn says in a video to be released Tuesday. "Well, Mr. Gibbons, while you were making money as an investment banker selling U.S. businesses to China, Josh was serving in the United States Marine Corps in Iraq, fighting our enemies and working very hard protecting not only you, but our country."
Flynn is referencing an exchange at a Friday night debate when Mandel said Gibbons was profiting off Chinese investments.
Gibbons dismissed the claims and said Mandel "may not understand this" because he'd never "been in the private sector." Mandel then stood up, moving inches from Gibbons' face, saying, "I've worked, sir… two tours in Iraq… you don't tell me I haven't worked."
"You don't know squat," Gibbons said.
The tense exchange continued for several moments as Mandel told Gibbons to "back off," and Gibbons said, "You're dealing with the wrong dude."
"No, you're dealing with the wrong guy," Mandel said.
The fallout from the exchange was immediate, with Gibbons spokesperson Samantha Cotten accusing Mandel of being "unhinged, unfit and flailing – because he's losing."
"We can't leave this race to childlike candidates," Cotten added.
GOP Senate primary candidate Jane Timken, the former state GOP chair, called Mandel's behavior "disqualifying" in a Tuesday press release. J.D. Vance, who is also running in the GOP primary, weighed in during a separate debate Monday, hosted by FOX 8 News in Cleveland.
"I hate when people use the Marine Corps as a political football," Vance, who served in the Marine Corps in a noncombat role, said. "I don't know why you use the Marine Corps every single time you're attacked, Josh. It's kind of ridiculous."
"My son is in the U.S. Navy and was deployed to an undisclosed location earlier this month. My daughter in-law flies F-18s. I understand both the dedication and sacrifices of the men and women in uniform–and that of their families," Gibbons himself said Monday. "However, Josh Mandel's manufactured outrage is based on a lie as he is desperate, flailing, and losing. His attacks show he is unhinged and unfit to serve in the Senate."
Mandel's campaign, meanwhile, published a letter Monday from a group of Ohio armed forces veterans who said they were "appalled and disgusted" with Gibbons' comments.
"We can't have a United States senator that does not respect the honor and sacrifice of military service," they added. "Mike Gibbons is stomping on the graves of all those who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that he could live in a free country."
Their comments were echoed Tuesday by Flynn.
"Getting rich is OK, and I don't have any problems with it. But making statements to the effect that those who have served and sacrificed in our military, and yes worked, Mr. Gibbons, is not OK," Flynn said.
"The men and women who served in our armed forces and those in our nation's past who have sacrificed their lives for our nation, worked their tails off so you could get rich off of selling businesses to China," he continued in the video statement. "Mr. Gibbons, you need to apologize to all our military for believing that we don't actually work for a living. Come live on the battlefield for one second, and you'll experience something that is unimaginable to most, and that is serving our nation for a greater cause.
Flynn, who briefly served as former President Trump's national security adviser, endorsed Mandel late last month.
"I know he's gonna be a terrific and a great leader in the United States Senate," Flynn said of Mandel in a February endorsement video.
Flynn was a central figure in the Mueller investigation during the Trump presidency and fought charges against him after initially cooperating with the probe. Trump pardoned Flynn for lying to the FBI.
Flynn was also part of Trump's efforts to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, which the former president falsely claims was stolen.
A Fox News poll conducted March 2-6 indicated Gibbons at 22% among likely Republican primary voters, with Mandel at 20%, Vance at 11%, Jane Timken at 9%, Matt Dolan at 7%, and nearly a quarter of those surveyed undecided.
The winner of the GOP primary will likely take on Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, in the general election.