Defiant Trump: McCain should apologize to my supporters

NEW YORK -- After two days of intense criticism, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is not backing down from the comments he made about Senator John McCain.

In a phone interview with CBS News' Charlie Rose, Trump blamed the media for distorting what he said about McCain's military service.

"The problem is that the media takes it, Charlie, and they'll take a half sentence, they'll take one sentence instead of three sentences, and if you look at it that way it's different but nothing was said wrong and that's the way we are and it became a story," Trump said.

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Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters during a political rally at the Phoenix Convention Center on July 11, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. Trump spoke about illegal immigration and other topics in front of an estimated crowd of 4,200.
Charlie Leight, Getty Images

Trump was at a conservative forum in Ames, Iowa, Saturday when he mocked McCain's military service -- which included a five-and-half-year stint in a North Vietnamese prison.

"He's not a war hero," said Trump on Saturday. "Come on! He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured, okay? I hate to tell you. He's a war hero, because he was captured, okay? You can have - and I believe perhaps he's a war hero."

When asked to clear up his original comment that suggested he had a preference for "people who weren't captured," Trump said:

"I think they're all heroes and I said that by the way."

Trump said the feud started after McCain called 15,000 Trump supporters at an event in Phoenix, "crazies."

"That was very insulting to those people," said Trump. "They were great people and they were worrying about illegal immigration, which is a huge problem that I brought up three weeks ago and that was a big firestorm and it turned out I was right."

Trump said he isn't attacking McCain's character or heroism, but is instead attacking him as a politician for the way he's handled issues related to veterans.

"I'm attacking him as a senator because I think he's done horribly in terms of immigration - illegal immigration - and I'm attacking him as a senator because of what's happened with the vets because the vets are being treated so badly," said Trump.

John McCain weighed in on the controversy this morning on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

"I think he may owe an apology to the families of those who have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone the prison experience in serving their country," said McCain.

Trump himself did not serve in the military. The VFW called his comments "despicable."

Trump, though, claimed veterans have been flooding his office with phone calls and emails, expressing support and thanks for his push to shed light on problems at the Veteran's Administration, which Trump called "corrupt."

Some Republican analysts predicted this would be the flap that did him in, but each new controversy seems to drive his numbers up. Two new national polls show trump firmly ahead of his GOP rivals.

Republican Party leaders denounced Trump's comments but have not called on him to drop out.

"You shouldn't be our commander-in-chief because you don't know our military," said Sen. Lindsey Graham at an event in New York on Monday.

The GOP is treading lightly for fear he might decide to mount a third party bid and take his voters with him, reports CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes. But Trump said he has no intention of doing that.

"The best way to win this election is to do it as a Republican for me, so it's not something I want to do," said Trump. "With that said, many, many people want me to run as an independent. I am only interested in running as a Republican."

In his interview with Charlie Rose, Trump was unapologetic and consistently pointed to his original comments as proof that he said nothing wrong.

"You don't want to apologize when you haven't done something wrong, when the media changes it or when people that are getting clobbered, namely the other candidates, are running and they change it," said Trump. "I mean, I don't think a guy like Rick Perry even understands what we're talking about to be honest with you."

In an op-ed published Monday, the billionaire crowed "I do not need to be lectured by any of them," referring to the other GOP presidential candidates.

Trump acknowledged he once raised money for McCain's presidential campaign but showed no intent of giving the senator an apology.

"In all fairness to John McCain, perhaps he should apologize to the 15,000 people that were in Phoenix that he called crazy only because of the fact that they want to stop illegal immigration," said Trump.