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McCain rejects minister's endorsement

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. McCain says Rev. Hagee's comments "deeply offensive and indefensible"
  • Hagee later withdrew his endorsement of the Arizona senator
  • Hagee says remarks regarding Hitler were taken out of context
  • Another McCain supporter has been criticized for remarks on Islam
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(CNN) -- In the face of mounting controversy over headline-grabbing statements from the Rev. John Hagee, CNN has learned that presumptive Republican nominee John McCain decided Thursday to reject his endorsement.

McCain later also repudiated the support of Rod Parsley, an Ohio preacher who has called Islam an inherantly violent religion.

McCain told CNN's Brian Todd that he rejected Hagee's endorsement after Todd brought to his attention Hagee's comments that Adolf Hitler had been fulfilling God's will by hastening the desire of Jews to return to Israel in accordance with biblical prophecy.

"God says in Jeremiah 16: 'Behold, I will bring them the Jewish people again unto their land that I gave to their fathers. ... Behold, I will send for many fishers, and after will I send for many hunters. And they the hunters shall hunt them.' That would be the Jews. ... Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone who comes with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter," Hagee said, according to a transcript of his sermon.

In a statement to CNN on Thursday, McCain said "Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them. I did not know of them before Rev. Hagee's endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well." Video Watch how the Hagee endorsement unraveled »

Shortly after McCain's announcement Thursday afternoon, Hagee withdrew his endorsement, citing critics who had been "grossly misrepresenting" his positions.

"I am tired of these baseless attacks and fear that they have become a distraction in what should be a national debate about important issues. I have therefore decided to withdraw my endorsement of Sen. McCain for president effective today, and to remove myself from any active role in the 2008 campaign," he said in a statement.

"I hope that the Sen. McCain will accept this withdrawal so that he may focus on the issues that are most important to America and the world."

McCain also said that his relationship with Hagee did not compare with Sen. Barack Obama's lengthy association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose own inflammatory comments remain, for some Republicans, a persistent campaign issue even though Obama has denounced his former minister.

"I have said I do not believe Sen. Obama shares Rev. Wright's extreme views. But let me also be clear, Rev. Hagee was not and is not my pastor or spiritual adviser, and I did not attend his church for 20 years. I have denounced statements he made immediately upon learning of them, as I do again today," McCain said.

The Arizona senator had renounced comments from Hagee that termed the Catholic Church "the great whore" and "an apostate church."

Hagee is pastor of a 19,000-member evangelical church in San Antonio, Texas, and founder of a global Christian broadcast network.

In a statement released before McCain rejected his endorsement, Hagee said his words had been taken out of context.

"The intentional mischaracterization of my statements by an Internet journalist seeking to use me as a political football in the upcoming presidential race is a gross example of bias at its worst. I will not stand idly by while my character is assassinated and my views on the Holocaust are grossly distorted.

"To assert that I in any way condone the Holocaust or that monster Adolf Hitler is the biggest and ugliest of lies. I have always condemned the horrors of the Holocaust in the strongest of terms." He also pointed to millions of dollars worth of donations his ministry had made to humanitarian efforts in Israel.

Hagee has been a strong supporter of Israel for years. One prominent Jewish group does not believe that the pastor is anti-Semitic but is deeply concerned with the comments.

"The notion that the Holocaust was part of God's plan ... as a way of punishing the Jews is a deeply, deeply troubling ... assertion to be repudiated by all people of conscience," said Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

With his fellow Republican candidates trying to cast him as too liberal this year, McCain aggressively courted Christian conservative leaders to bolster his credentials with the GOP's base.

The impact on the self-styled maverick's standing among conservatives remains in question, with exit polling suggesting that the GOP's most conservative voters remain uneasy with him. Candidates who have suspended their campaigns, such as former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, still poll in double digits.

And Hagee is not McCain's only religious backer whose comments have sparked controversy.

McCain has faced pressure to distance himself from the Rev. Rod Parsley over the minister's statement that Islam was "an antichrist religion that intends through violence to conquer the world."

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The Council on American-Islamic Relations is calling on McCain to repudiate Parsley's endorsement.

A McCain spokesman says the senator rejects the remarks and adds that it's entirely inconsistent with what McCain believes. But the campaign is not rejecting the endorsement at the moment.

CNN's Brian Todd, Dugald McConnell, Ed Hornick and Rebecca Sinderbrand contributed to this report.

All About John McCainJeremiah WrightThe Roman Catholic Church

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