Trump reignites criticism of McCain months after senator's death

President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE belittled and mocked the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainEleventh Democratic presidential debate to be held in Phoenix Moderate Democrats now in a race against the clock Biden on Graham's push for investigation: 'I don't know what happened' to him MORE (R-Ariz.) in a pair of tweets this weekend, reigniting criticism of the widely respected lawmaker seven months after his death.

Trump's tweets renewed his long-simmering disdain for McCain, who died in August after a battle with brain cancer. The criticism prompted McCain's friends, family and former colleagues from both sides of the aisle to defend him and came amid a broader discussion over whether Trump's rhetoric has contributed to inflamed tensions internationally. 

Amid a flurry of tweets that touched on the shootings at two mosques in New Zealand, perceived bias on "Saturday Night Live" and controversial comments from Fox News hosts, Trump twice on Saturday and Sunday singled out McCain for criticism.

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Trump referenced reports that court papers showed an aide for the late senator had shared a dossier of allegations, some unverified, about Trump's ties to Russia with the FBI and the media.

"He had far worse 'stains' than this, including thumbs down on repeal and replace after years of campaigning to repeal and replace!" the president tweeted on Saturday afternoon, invoking McCain's vote against the GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017.

"So it was indeed (just proven in court papers) 'last in his class' (Annapolis) John McCain that sent the Fake Dossier to the FBI and Media hoping to have it printed BEFORE the Election," Trump wrote on Sunday morning.

"He & the Dems, working together, failed (as usual)," he added. "Even the Fake News refused this garbage!"

Trump suggested while campaigning in 2015 that McCain was not a war hero because he was captured while serving in Vietnam. He also bashed McCain over the ObamaCare vote. The president stoked controversy even in the days after McCain's death when he waited to lower flags to half-staff and offer an official statement. 

McCain's family and closest friends, most representing the president's own party, came to his defense in the wake of Trump's renewed attacks.

"No one will ever love you the way they loved my father...." McCain's daughter, Meghan, tweeted Saturday.

"I wish I had been given more Saturday’s with him," she added. "Maybe spend yours with your family instead of on twitter obsessing over mine?"

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony US defense chief says Taliban deal 'looks very promising' but not without risk Lawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban MORE (R-S.C.), one of McCain's closest friends in the Senate and now one of the president's most reliable allies in Congress, defended his former colleague in a pair of tweets on Sunday.

"He stepped forward to risk his life for his country, served honorably under difficult circumstances, and was one of the most consequential senators in the history of the body," Graham said. "Nothing about his service will ever be changed or diminished."

Other than Graham, it was mostly Democratic lawmakers who admonished Trump's comments on Sunday morning.

"I’ve long thought that his personal and direct attacks on Sen. McCain was one of the most detestable things about President Trump's conduct as a candidate," Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocrats fear rule of law crumbling under Trump McConnell displays mastery of Senate with impeachment victory Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle MORE (D-Del.) said on ABC's "This Week," calling on Trump to apologize for his most recent remarks.

McCain, for his part, served as one of the president's most consistent foils within the GOP. Prior to Trump taking office and after his own brain cancer diagnosis, McCain offered some of the sharpest criticisms of any lawmaker of the president's rhetoric.

He spoke out against "half-baked, spurious nationalism” and Trump's reported disparaging remarks about immigrants from Africa.

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Trump's attacks on McCain come as the president's language about immigrants, Muslims and minority groups is under fresh scrutiny following a shooting at two mosques in New Zealand that left 50 people dead. Trump mourned the attack on Twitter and said Friday that he believes white nationalism is not a growing threat but a "small group of people that have very, very serious problems."

While the White House insisted that any connection between the New Zealand incident and Trump's rhetoric is unfair and unwarranted, Democrats raised the president's willingness to blast McCain in questioning why he wouldn't condemn white nationalism.

"Now do white nationalists," Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellChris Wallace: 'Just insane' Swalwell is talking impeaching Trump again McCarthy says Trump did not interfere in Roger Stone case House intelligence briefing on worldwide threat assessment delayed MORE (D-Calif.) suggested in response to Trump's tweet blasting McCain. 

"John believed, as I believe, that when a tragedy happens like in New Zealand, you do all you can to reach out to that country and you do all you can to stand up for the simple belief that people are different in our country but we are all part of a greater America," Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharJoe Biden lost his fastball — can he get it back before South Carolina? Where the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes Judd Gregg: Bloomberg rising MORE (D-Minn.) said on "State of the Union" on CNN. "And the president chose to take the different road."