Trump told Maria Bartiromo that his recent criticisms of the politician — including falsely mocking McCain as “last in his class” at the Naval Academy — stem from the fact that the president believes McCain was motivated by “evil” intent when he gave the FBI an as-yet-unconfirmed dossier about Trump’s alleged connection with the Russian government. (According to the New York Times, federal authorities already had a copy of the dossier when McCain brought it to them.)
As CNN explains, the so-called “Steele dossier” was written by British intelligence officer Christopher Steele and alleges a “widespread conspiracy of collusion” between the president and the Russian government.
Both Trump and the Kremlin deny the claims and some details of the dossier have not been verified, though many have “held up over time” or “proved to be partially true,” according to CNN.
Trump said Friday the dossier “was a fake, it was a fraud” and that McCain passed it to the FBI “for very evil purposes. That’s not good.”
The president also brought up McCain’s dramatic last-second 2017 vote against efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, essentially dooming the Republicans’ years-long campaign against it.
“The other thing: He [McCain] voted against repeal and replace,” the president said. “Now he’s been campaigning for years for repeal and replace. I’m not a fan. After all this time — think of this, repeal and replace — we would’ve had great health care.”
When asked why he continued to attack McCain even though the senator died in August from brain cancer at the age of 81, Trump said it was because the press kept bringing up the subject — even though Trump himself mentioned McCain again, unprompted, in a Twitter spree this weekend and again at speech in Ohio.
“He was horrible, what he did with repeal and replace,” Trump said. “What he did to the Republican Party and to the nation and to sick people that could have had great healthcare was not good.”
“I’m not a fan of John McCain, and that’s fine,” the president finished.
Trump’s animosity about the late senator traces back years but returned to view over the weekend, when he accused McCain of leaking the aforementioned dossier. (Amid his flurry of tweets over several days, Trump also attacked Saturday Night Live and the husband of one of his top advisers.)
Trump falsely claimed in his tweets that McCain graduated last in his class at the United States Naval Academy.
“Spreading the fake and totally discredited dossier ‘is, unfortunately, a very dark stain against John McCain.’ Ken Starr, Former Independent Counsel. He had far worse ‘stains’ than this, including thumbs down on repeal and replace after years of campaigning to repeal and replace!” Trump wrote on Saturday.
Spreading the fake and totally discredited Dossier “is unfortunately a very dark stain against John McCain.” Ken Starr, Former Independent Counsel. He had far worse “stains” than this, including thumbs down on repeal and replace after years of campaigning to repeal and replace!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 16, 2019
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. He & the Dems, working together, failed (as usual). Even the Fake News refused this garbage!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2019
After sitting quietly for the first part of the conversation, Meghan spoke up and slammed Trump for spending his weekend speaking poorly of her late father, whom she referred to as a “great man.”
“[Trump] spends his weekend obsessing over great men because — he knows it and I know it and all of you know it — he will never be a great man,” she stated. “My father was his kryptonite in life, he’s his kryptonite in death.”
On Thursday, McCain’s ultra-private daughter Bridget tweeted at the president directly.
“Everyone doesn’t have to agree with my dad or like him, but I do ask you to be decent and respectful,” wrote Bridget, 27. “If you can’t do those two things, be mindful. We only said goodbye to him almost 7 months ago.”
In a second tweet, Bridget went on the offensive, casting the president’s fixation on her father as part of his broader narcissism and poor impulse control.
“Even if you were invited to my dad’s funeral, you would have only wanted to be there for the credit and not for any condolences,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, you could not be counted on to be courteous, as you are a child in the most important role the world knows.”
This week, Trump also bizarrely complained that “didn’t get a thank you” for approving McCain’s funeral.
Speaking at a White House event at an Ohio tank manufacturing facility on Wednesday, Trump claimed he did not receive proper gratitude on behalf of McCain’s loved ones after “approving” the senator’s funeral service — which he did not attend — on Sept. 1.
It’s unclear what Trump meant as presidential approval was not required for any of the McCain memorials. But he was likely referring to his authorization of the use of a military plane to transport McCain’s body to Washington, D.C.
“I endorsed him at his request and I gave him the kind of funeral he wanted, which as president I had to approve,” Trump said at the event.
He then reiterated his comments from a day earlier, telling the crowd, “I don’t care about this … I didn’t get a thank you. That’s okay. We sent him on the way. But I wasn’t a fan of John McCain.”
Trump’s bad blood with McCain started as early as 1999 when Trump questioned whether or not the senator was a war hero during a 60 Minutes interview.
McCain was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for more than five years. The former Navy pilot previously told PEOPLE that he survived thanks to his “faith in God, faith in my fellow prisoners and faith in my country.”
But on 60 Minutes, Trump, who received a deferment from the military draft, was openly derisive.
“He was captured … Does being captured make you a hero?” he said of McCain. “I don’t know. I’m not sure.”
Trump’s comment resurfaced during the 2016 Republican presidential primary. This time, Trump doubled down.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said at the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa in July 2015. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Trump and McCain would continue to go head-to-head up until the senator’s death.
In his final letter, shared after he died, McCain expressed his gratitude for his accomplished life and the importance of sticking to American ideals despite “present difficulties.”
McCain’s letter mentioned “tribal rivalries” and “[hiding] behind walls rather than [tearing] them down” — seemingly subtle shots at Trump’s resistance to foreign alliances and immigration and his inflammatory racial rhetoric.
On Thursday, Meghan said on The View that Trump’s continued fuming was draining for her family.
“I don’t expect decency and compassion from the Trump family,” she said. “I do want to thank the American public for all the decency and compassion that they have given us. Do not feel sorry for our family.”
She instead urged viewers to “do something good out of all this toxicity,” such as support wounded veterans.