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Trump refuses to apologize for comments on McCain’s service

Donald J. Trump refused to apologize on Sunday for ridiculing Senator John McCain's war record in Vietnam and accused Mr. McCain of stoking outrage, even as Mr. Trump's comments continued to draw anger and calls from some Republicans for him to quit the 2016 presidential race.

"I always believe in apologizing if you've done something wrong, but if you read my statement, you'll see I said nothing wrong," Mr. Trump said in an interview, referring to his comments at a candidates forum in Iowa on Saturday, which he insists were taken out of context.

Responding to a question about Mr. McCain's military service Mr. Trump said of the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam: "He's not a war hero. He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured."

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On Sunday, Mr. Trump also accused Mr. McCain of "working the phones real hard" and then "saying we have no comment."

"He's played this game for a long time," Mr. Trump said. And while pointing out that he had also called Mr. McCain "a hero" on Saturday, Mr. Trump questioned the Arizona senator's integrity, noting his involvement in the 1980s savings and loan scandal.

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"He had the Keating Five, a tremendous scandal," said Mr. Trump, who has been targeting Mr. McCain since the senator said Mr. Trump had "fired up the crazies" at a rally in Phoenix last week.

In a separate, if just as discursive, interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Mr. Trump faulted some of his rivals for creating the tempest, attacked Mr. McCain for not doing more to help veterans, and claimed that the service of American military veterans who were not prisoners of war was not recognized.

"People that fought hard and weren't captured and went through a lot, they get no credit," Mr. Trump said on the network. "Nobody even talks about them. They're, like, forgotten."

Asked if he would withdraw from the race, Mr. Trump said, "I'm certainly not pulling out."

He has commanded vast media attention for weeks thanks largely to an early episode of bombast, in which he portrayed Mexican immigrants as rapists. Yet many leading Republicans — because they feared offending his supporters, did not want to encourage him to run as an independent, or merely hoped that ignoring the publicity-hungry celebrity would diminish his profile — were restrained in their response to those comments.

But Mr. Trump's inflammatory comments about Mr. McCain, whose refusal of early release from a Hanoi prison camp vaulted him to fame long before he entered politics, has left Republican officials exasperated about the developer's disruptive presence in the campaign.

"Early in his campaign, when he said something outrageous, people kind of said just ignore it and move on, it will go away," Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. "This is what he does for a living. I think now, as this has gone forward and he's become a more covered candidate and people pay more attention to him, it's required people to be more forceful on some of these offensive things that he's saying."

Mr. Rubio said Mr. Trump had insulted the entire P.O.W. community.

"This somehow makes the assumption or he's saying that somehow if you're captured in battle, you're less worthy of honors than someone who isn't," he said. "It's not just absurd, it's offensive. It's ridiculous. And I do think it is a disqualifier as commander in chief."

Democrats, already relishing Mr. Trump's long shadow in the Republican race, also seized on his comments about Mr. McCain, attempting to tar the entire Republican field with Mr. Trump's provocations.

"It's shameful, and so is the fact that it took so long for most of his fellow Republican candidates to start standing up to him," Hillary Rodham Clinton said at a Democratic fund-raising dinner in Arkansas on Saturday night.

The criticism of Mr. Trump was not just confined to political leaders, though. John W. Stroud, head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, denounced Mr. Trump's comments. "For someone who never served a day in uniform to criticize the service and sacrifice of a combat-wounded veteran is despicable," Mr. Stroud said.

As for why Mr. Trump, 69, did not serve in the military during Vietnam, he said on Sunday that he had student deferments and a medical deferment. He said that while he was "not a fan of the Vietnam War," he would have "proudly served." Mr. Trump, the son of a wealthy New York real estate developer, received four student deferments while studying at Fordham University and the University of Pennsylvania, according to The Smoking Gun, which obtained his draft records in 2011.

When he graduated from Pennsylvania in 1968, Mr. Trump's status was reclassified to 1-A, or ready for unrestricted service. But that changed in the fall of the same year. After a September medical exam, Mr. Trump was labeled 1-Y the following month — the category for those individuals with limiting but not disabling medical conditions. Under this category, Mr. Trump would have only had to serve in a national emergency.

"I had a minor medical deferment for feet, for a bone spur of the foot, which was minor," he said on Sunday.