Trump defends 'antisemitic' Clinton tweet and praise for Saddam Hussein

Donald Trump stood by the much-criticized tweet at an Ohio rally, and doubled down on his controversial statements about the former Iraqi dictator

Donald Trump defended a controversial tweet that many considered antisemitic and reiterated his praise for Saddam Hussein on Wednesday in a rambling, unscripted campaign rally that will compound the fears of Republicans who question if their candidate has the discipline to reach the White House.

The billionaire’s rekindling of two controversies distracted from the difficult week being endured by his Democratic adversary, Hillary Clinton, who was excoriated by the FBI over her “extremely careless” use of emails.

Joined on stage in Cincinnati by a potential vice-presidential running mate, Newt Gingrich, Trump insisted that the tweet, which consisted of an image of Clinton surrounded by money with the phrase “most crooked candidate ever” emblazoned on a six-point star, should never have been deleted by his campaign.

The tweet containing the star, which resembled a Star of David, was deleted after several hours, although the Trump campaign later said it had not been aware of the connotations of the image.

House speaker Paul Ryan joined critics from both parties in calling the image antisemitic and it was denounced by the non-partisan Anti-Defamation League. It eventually emerged that the image was originally created by a Twitter user with a history of racially charged tweets.

Trump said at his rally on Wednesday that his campaign “should have left it [the tweet] up”. He insisted that those who suggested it was antisemitic were the real racists. “Actually they’re racially profiling,” said the presumptive Republican nominee. “They’re racially profiling. Not us. Why do they bring this up?”

Newt Gingrich, a potential vice-presidential running mate, takes the stage alongside Donald’s son Eric Trump at the Cincinnati rally.
Newt Gingrich, a potential vice-presidential running mate, takes the stage alongside Donald’s son Eric. Photograph: ddp USA/Rex/Shutterstock

Trump also doubled down his controversial statements about Saddam, the former Iraqi dictator who killed hundreds of thousands of his own people.

In a rally in North Carolina on Tuesday, Trump said of the dictator: “He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights. They didn’t talk. They were terrorists. Over.”

His praise for Saddam was widely reported and distracted attention from what Republicans had hoped would be the focus: the condemnation of Clinton’s email practices by the FBI, despite the decision not to charge her over the use of a private email server for state department business.

The US fought two wars against Saddam, ultimately removing from power after the 2003 Iraq war. He was convicted of crimes against humanity, sentenced to death and executed in 2006.

However on Wednesday, in attempting to clarify his remarks, Trump once against appeared to compliment his anti-terrorist bona fides. He insisted that he actually hated Saddam and that the media distorted his remarks. “I don’t love Saddam Hussein,” Trump said. “I hate Saddam Hussein. But he was damn good at killing terrorists.”

Although FBI director James Comey did not recommend an indictment of the former secretary of state, he strongly condemned her and said there was “evidence of potential violations of the statutes”.

Comey’s remarks also raised difficult questions over explanations Clinton has in the past given about her use emails when she was secretary of state.

Trump did criticize Clinton’s conduct in the email scandal, calling her “crooked Hillary” and attacking her for “false statements”. However, he seemed to be spend as much energy targeting Chuck Todd, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press, for his “sleepy eyes”.

Trump also praised the controversial boxing promoter Don King at the speech for “beating the system”. He said that King might speak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

He also heralded former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich as a potential running mate, saying: “I am not saying it’s Newt. But if it’s Newt, nobody is beating him in the debates.”

Trump is expected to be nominated at the convention in Cleveland in less than two weeks.


Ben Jacobs in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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