President Donald Trump questioned who was behind a recent spate of anti-Semitic threats and incidents during a meeting with state attorneys general on Tuesday, one of the people present said after the gathering.
When the recent threats against Jewish facilities and vandalism at a Jewish cemetery came up during the meeting, the president responded by calling the incidents “reprehensible” but then “made this reference that sometimes it’s the reverse,” according to a spokesman for Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, D.
“He used that word ‘reverse’ several times,” Joe Grace, a spokesman for Shapiro, said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. Grace was relaying what Shapiro had said publicly earlier Tuesday during a phone call with reporters.
Shapiro’s account of the meeting with Trump was first reported by Billy Penn. According to the Billy Penn report, a reporter asked if Shapiro interpreted Trump’s statements to mean that the president thinks his supporters are being framed, but Shapiro responded by saying he is unsure what Trump was implying.
“The attorney general honestly does not know what the president meant by that,” Grace said, adding that Shapiro “hoped that there would be clarity on those remarks” when Trump delivers a speech before Congress on Tuesday evening.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, R, a Trump supporter during the campaign, also attended the meeting but declined to comment about what was said.
“I know first-hand President Trump cares deeply about our Jewish community and is extremely upset by these attacks,” Bondi said in a statement. “His daughter, son-in-law and three of his grandchildren are Jewish. We pray these attacks, as well as any potential copycat attacks, cease.”
Trump’s comments on the issue came after a wave of bomb threats at Jewish centers and schools on Monday and the toppling of more than 100 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia over the weekend. The bomb threats were the latest in a spate of such incidents nationwide so far this year, while the headstone episode occurred a week after similar vandalism at a cemetery near St. Louis.
There have been a total of 100 bomb threats called in to Jewish schools and Jewish Community Centers since the beginning of January, according to the Jewish Community Center Association of North America.
Last week, Trump offered his first public condemnation of the anti-Semitic incidents, relenting in the face of extensive criticism about his refusal to comment publicly. Trump was asked about the subject during two news conferences earlier this month, but he declined to condemn the anti-Semitic episodes, instead responding to one question by discussing his electoral victory and replying in the other briefing by criticizing the reporter who asked the question.
A White House spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The reports promised swift and sharp condemnations from groups that have already expressed unhappiness with Trump’s behavior on the issue. The Anti-Defamation League pilloried the comments on the origins of the threats, calling on Trump’s White House to offer further explanation.
“We are astonished by what the President reportedly said,” Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the ADL, said in a statement. “It is incumbent upon the White House to immediately clarify these remarks. In light of the ongoing attacks on the Jewish community, it is also incumbent upon the President to lay out in his speech tonight his plans for what the federal government will do to address this rash of anti-Semitic incidents.”
The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, a nonprofit organization targeting discrimination and a group that has criticized Trump, released an even more critical statement.
“Mr. President, have you no decency?” Steven Goldstein, the nonprofit’s executive director, said in a statement. “To cast doubt on the authenticity of Anti-Semitic hate crimes in America constitutes Anti-Semitism in itself, and that’s something none of us ever dreamed would disgrace our nation from the White House. If the reports are true, you owe the American Jewish community an apology.”
Trump’s reported comments would not be the first time he has suggested that racist, anti-Semitic or other “horrible” sentiment has been expressed by his political opponents seeking to make him or his supporters look bad, as Aaron Blake documents at The Fix.
“But you have some of those signs and some of that anger is caused by the other side,” Trump said to a reporter during a news conference earlier this month. “They’ll do signs, and they’ll do drawings that are inappropriate. It won’t be my people. It will be the people on the other side to anger people like you.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Mark Berman