NEW YORK • United States billionaire Donald Trump has belittled the parents of a slain Muslim soldier who had strongly denounced him during the Democratic National Convention, saying that the soldier's father had delivered the entire speech because his mother was not "allowed" to speak.
Mr Trump's comments, in an interview on ABC News, drew quick and widespread condemnation and amplified calls for Republican leaders to distance themselves from their presidential nominee. With his implication that the soldier's mother had not spoken because of female subservience expected in some traditional strains of Islam, his comments also inflamed his hostilities with Muslim Americans.
The speech of Mr Khizr Khan, the soldier's father, was effectively the Democratic response to comments Mr Trump has made implying many Muslim Americans have terrorist sympathies or stay silent when they know ones who do.
Mr Khan spoke about how his 27-year-old son Humayun Khan, an Army captain, had died in a car bombing in 2004 in Iraq.
Criticising Mr Trump, Mr Khan said he "consistently smears the character of Muslims". Holding up a copy of the US Constitution, he asked if Mr Trump had read it. Mr Khan's wife Mrs Ghazala Khan stood silently by his side.
Mr Trump on ABC News wished Mr Khan "the best of luck". But, he added: "If you look at his wife, she was standing there, she had nothing to say - maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say, you tell me."
AS TRUMP SAW IT
If you look at his wife, she was standing there, she had nothing to say - maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say, you tell me.
REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE DONALD TRUMP, on Mr Khizr Khan and his wife Mrs Ghazala Khan, the parents of a slain Muslim soldier. They had strongly denounced Mr Trump during the Democratic National Convention.
AS CLINTON SEES IT
Someone who attacks everybody has something missing. I don't know what it is. I'm not going to get into that.
DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE HILLARY CLINTON, responding to Mr Trump's comments at a campaign stop in Ohio.
When asked what he would say to the grieving father, he replied: "I'd say, 'We've had a lot of problems with radical Islamic terrorism.'"
When it was noted that Mr Khan said Mr Trump had "sacrificed nothing" and had lost no one, the real-estate mogul replied: "I think I've made a lot of sacrifices. I've worked very, very hard. I've created thousands and thousands of jobs."
Even given Mr Trump's reputation, his remarks about the Khans were startling. They provoked another avalanche of criticism on social media and again put Republican leaders in a difficult position, facing new demands that they repudiate their presidential nominee.
Governor John Kasich of Ohio, a rival of Mr Trump's in the Republican primaries, castigated him on Twitter. "There's only one way to talk about Gold Star parents: with honour and respect," he wrote, using the term for surviving family members of those who died in war.
And Mrs Hillary Clinton, Mr Trump's Democratic opponent, said he "was not a normal presidential candidate". "Someone who attacks everybody has something missing," she told a crowd at a campaign stop in Ohio. "I don't know what it is. I'm not going to get into that."
In a statement late last Saturday, Mr Trump reiterated his belief that the US should bar Muslims from entering the country. "While I feel deeply for the loss of his son," he added, "Mr Khan, who has never met me, has no right to stand in front of millions of people and claim I have never read the Constitution."
In response to Mr Trump's attack on his wife, Mr Khan said the Republican nominee's words were "typical of a person without a soul".
Mr Khan said his wife had not spoken at the convention because it was too painful for her to talk about her son's death. Mr Trump, he said, "is devoid of feeling the pain of a mother who has sacrificed her son".
Responding to Mr Trump's latest statement, where he also called Mr Khan's son a "hero" who should be "honoured", Mr Khan, a Harvard- trained lawyer who lives in Virginia, said: "This is faked empathy."
"What he said originally - that defines him. You think he will empathise with this country, with the suffering of this country's poor people? All the snake oil he is selling, and my patriotic, decent Americans are falling for that."
Mrs Khan did speak last Friday to MSNBC, saying when she saw her son's photo on the screen behind her on the stage in Philadelphia, she "couldn't take it". "I controlled myself at that time," she said while choking back tears. "It is very hard."
NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST