From NBC's Kelly O'Donnell and Mark Murray
NBC News has been told that McCain decided to "reject" the endorsement of evangelical pastor John Hagee. While McCain has denounced some of Hagee's past comments, he had not until today rejected Hagee's actual support.
Advisers acknowledge this endorsement was not properly vetted and that McCain was not aware of the range of controversial comments Hagee has made. The latest surfaced remarks were that "Hitler was a hunter" -- regarding the Holocaust -- and today advisers called those statement "heinous." While they acknowledge a "bit of concern" that some evangelicals needed by McCain might be offended, the campaign felt this step was needed today.
Here's the statement McCain released and do note the dig at Obama and Jeremiah Wright: "Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them. I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee's endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well. I have said I do not believe Sen. Obama shares Reverend Wright's extreme views. But let me also be clear, Reverend Hagee was not and is not my pastor or spiritual adviser, and I did not attend his church for twenty years. I have denounced statements he made immediately upon learning of them, as I do again today."
*** UPDATE *** McCain renouncing Hagee's endorsement comes almost three months after the Arizona senator received it. Hagee endorsed McCain on Feb. 27. Two days later, McCain issued a statement disagreeing with some of Hagee's views, but he didn't outright denounce the endorsement until today.
*** UPDATE II *** And here's a statement from Hagee withdrawing his endorsement: "Ever since I endorsed John McCain for president, people seeking to attack Sen. McCain have combed my records for statements they can use for political gain. They have had no qualms about grossly misrepresenting my position on issues most near and dear to my heart if it serves their political ambitions. 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 Senator McCain for President effective today, and to remove myself from any active role in the 2008 campaign."
More: "I hope that the Senator McCain will accept this withdrawal so that he may focus on the issues that are most important to America and the world."