WASHINGTON - A bipartisan group of decorated combat veterans, members of Congress and family members of slain soldiers have slammed Donald Trump for criticising the Pakistani-American parents of an Army officer killed in Iraq, threatening to undermine Trump’s support among core Republican voters.

The condemnations by dozens of veterans and family members of those killed in the line of duty served as the most forceful rebuke yet of the billionaire businessman's comments and his anti-Muslim rhetoric.

The critiques lobbed at Trump on Monday were the latest turns in a bitter exchange that has dominated the presidential race since the close of the Democratic National Convention on Thursday in Philadelphia. It threatens to hurt Trump’s standing among voters he has been aggressively pursuing: those who aren’t fans of Democrat Hillary Clinton and who hold doubts about her record on national security, The Washington Post said, adding that the standoff has also frayed Trump’s already delicate alliance with Republican leaders.

Trump did not address the controversy directly during a campaign stop in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday afternoon. But he signaled on Twitter earlier in the day that he was not backing down from his criticism of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son Humayun Khan, an Army captain, was killed by a car bomber in Iraq in 2004. Trump said Khizr Khan had “no right” to assail him as he did in a speech at the Democratic convention Thursday.

Senator John McCain, a respected figure on national security issues in the Republican Party, issued a written statement sternly reprimanding Trump.

Donald Trump

'unfit' for presidency

US President Barack Obama declared Donald Trump unfit for office on Tuesday, calling on the leaders of the Republican Party to withdraw their backing from their party's presidential nominee.

During a press conference at the White House with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Obama posed the question to the Republican Party: "If you are repeatedly having to say what Trump says is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?"

 Obama said the Republican criticisms  of Trump “ring hollow” if the party’s leaders continue to support his bid for the presidency this fall, particularly in light of Republican criticisms of Trump for his attacks on the Pakistani origin parents of an American soldier, Capt Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq.

“The question they have to ask themselves is: If you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?” Mr. Obama said.


Obama said that in addition to Trump’s comments about Khizr Khan's Khan family, the Republican nominee had demonstrated that he was “woefully unprepared to do this job.” The president said Trump lacked knowledge about Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

"The notion that he would attack a Gold Star family (military families with sacrifices) that has made such extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our country, the fact that he doesn’t appear to have basic knowledge around critical issues in Europe, in the Middle East, in Asia, means that he's woefully unprepared to do this job."

Obama lauded Gold Star families in a speech to disabled veterans on Monday. Although he did not mention Trump by name then, his remarks were clearly understood as a response to Trump's ongoing feud with Khizr Khan.


Obama's comments Tuesday were more specific, but delivered in a more dispassionate tone than his own convention speech endorsing Trump's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

In that speech, Obama argued that Trump's own convention "wasn’t particularly Republican — and it sure wasn’t conservative." On Tuesday, he took that argument a step further, saying Republican denunciations of Trump's more bombastic statements "ring hollow" from GOP leaders who continue to support his candidacy — notably House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Arizona Sen. John McCain.

"The question I think they have to ask themselves is, if you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?" Obama said. "What does this say about your party that this is your standard-bearer? This isn't a situation where you have an episodic gaffe. This is daily and weekly, where they are distancing themselves from statements he is making."

Obama said it's not an argument he would have made about his former rivals. "I think I was right and Mitt Romney and John McCain were wrong on certain policy issues, but I never thought that they couldn't do the job."

For his part, Lee, the Singapore prime minister,  largely demurred about a question about U.S. politics, saying, "I don't think this is the right forum — or indeed, there is any right forum for me to talk about U.S. politics in public at this moment."

But he did say the relationship between the two countries would likely continue.  "After the elections, in a calmer, cooler atmosphere, positions are rethought, strategies are nuanced, and a certain balance is kept in the direction of the ship of state. It does not turn completely upside down," he said.

"The Americans take pride in having a system with checks and balances. So, it is not so easy to do things, but it is not so easy to completely mess things up," Lee said. "We admire that, and sometimes we depend upon that."

"He's absolutely right," Obama replied, smiling. "The wisdom of our founders."






McCain, who has tangled with Trump before, most notably after Trump said last year that McCain was not a war hero because he had been “captured,” added: “While our Party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.”

Aside from McCain, a bipartisan coalition of veterans, family members of military personnel killed in the line of duty, a veteran serving in Congress and an ex-diplomat sent a letter to Trump calling his criticism of the Khans an affront to each of them. It also called for him to apologize.

“Your statements are unacceptable, especially from someone seeking to serve as Commander-in-Chief,” the letter said. “The Khans’ sacrifice has earned them the right to ask hard questions of those seeking elected office.”

The list of signatories includes highly decorated combat veterans including Medal of Honour recipient Dakota Meyer, who was a supporter of Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. Congressman Seth Moulton, A Democrat who served in Iraq as a Marine Corps infantry officer, is also on the list.

Organizers said they plan to add many more signatures by opening up the letter online for broader national participation.

Brian Duffy, the recently elected commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, released a statement saying that the organization “will not tolerate anyone berating a Gold Star family member for exercising his or her right of speech or expression.” Duffy added that “there are certain sacrosanct subjects that no amount of wordsmithing can repair once crossed.” While Trump pledged to take good care of veterans at his campaign stop in Columbus, Ohio, he steered clear of the firestorm over his comments about the Khans.

On Twitter on Monday, Trump lashed out again at Khizr Khan and the media. He argued that “radical terrorism,” not Khan, should be the focus of the exchange - just minutes after slamming Khan.

“Mr. Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over TV doing the same - Nice!” Trump said in his initial tweet. Khizr and Ghazala Khan participated in a round of television interviews Monday in which they slammed Trump.

“This candidate amazes me - his ignorance,” Khizr Khan said on NBC’s “Today” show. “He can get up and malign the entire nation - the religions, the communities, the minorities, the judges. And yet, a private citizen in this political process, in his candidacy for the stewardship for this country - I cannot say what I feel? That proves the point: He has not read the Constitution of this country.”

Ghazala Khan, who teared up during at least one TV interview, rejected Trump’s suggestion during an interview with ABC News that she may not have been “allowed” to speak during her convention appearance. She stood at her husband’s side as he spoke.

“It doesn’t have to do anything with my religion,” she said on “Today.” She wrote in a Washington Post op-ed over the weekend that she is still experiencing raw emotions about her son’s death and could not bring herself to speak at the convention.

Speaking to the Disabled American Veterans’ annual convention in Atlanta, President Obama did not mention Khan’s parents or their speech. But he said he had asked to be introduced at the Democratic convention last week by Sharon Belkofer, whose son was killed in combat. And he called on Americans to support those who have lost loved ones to war. “We have to do everything we can for those families, and honor them, and be humbled by them,” Obama said.

Some Trump allies fought back hard Monday against the criticism the businessman has faced over his remarks about the Khans. Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, argued that the Khans’ son would still be alive if Trump had been president.

“Their son is a hero. And every person who has ever died fighting for our country and their families are heroes,” Lewandowski said on CNN, which employs him as a paid contributor. “The difference is, we’ve got 7,000 soldiers who died, $6 trillion wasted in wars overseas, and if Donald Trump was the president, we would never have had, and Captain Khan would be alive today.”

Trump regularly casts himself as an early critic of the Iraq War. The Post’s Fact Checker found that there is “no sign that Trump opposed the invasion or was vocal about it prior to the invasion.”

Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a conservative, said McCain’s response to Trump was probably motivated by the longtime senator’s anxiety over his reelection race in Arizona.

“I think you’re hearing a guy who’s worried about whether he can be reelected in Arizona,” Giuliani said in an interview with The Post. “John wouldn’t be saying this if he were running two years from now. He’d just keep his mouth shut.”

James Waters, a former George W. Bush administration White House aide and Navy SEAL, was among the 40 who signed the bipartisan letter to Trump. He is a Republican, but he is not voting for his party’s nominee.

“I think this situation speaks quite well to Trump’s blatant lack of fitness for office,” Waters said.