Trump campaign defends tweet as a 'basic star' in wake of criticism

Story highlights

  • Critics erupted with accusations that the imagery evoked anti-Semitic stereotypes
  • Trump has staked out a staunchly pro-Israel position in his campaign for president

(CNN)Donald Trump and his advisers are defending the presumptive Republican presidential nominee after one of his tweets came under fire for evoking anti-Semitic stereotypes with a graphic that included dollar bills and a six-pointed star.

Trump on Saturday tweeted and then deleted a graphic that branded Hillary Clinton the "most corrupt candidate" alongside a six-pointed star evoking the Star of David. But the uproar only increased on Sunday when reports emerged that the graphic had first been posted on an Internet message board loaded with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and neo-Nazi ideology.
"Dishonest media is trying their absolute best to depict a star in a tweet as the Star of David rather than a Sheriff's Star, or plain star!" the real estate mogul tweeted Monday morning, in his first comment on the controversy.
It wasn't until Monday afternoon that the Trump campaign finally issued a statement on the controversy -- one that amounted more to a response to the Clinton campaign statement than an explanation of his tweet.
Trump rejected the Clinton campaign's accusations that his tweet was anti-Semitic by slamming "false attacks" and insisting the star represented a sheriff's badge.
"These false attacks by Hillary Clinton trying to link the Star of David with a basic star, often used by sheriffs who deal with criminals and criminal behavior, showing an inscription that says 'Crooked Hillary is the most corrupt candidate ever' with anti-Semitism is ridiculous," Trump said in a statement.
Trump's statement did not address the fact that the campaign tweeted an image that had previously been posted on an anti-Semitic, white supremacist message board. His statement also didn't explain where the campaign obtained the image.
On Monday night the Trump campaign's social media director, Daniel Scavino, filled in some details on what he said were the image's origins.
"The social media graphic used this weekend was not created by the campaign nor was it sourced from an anti-Semitic site," Scavino said in statement separate from Trump's. "It was lifted from an anti-Hillary Twitter user where countless images appear."
"The sheriff's badge -- which is available under Microsoft's 'shapes' -- fit with the theme of corrupt Hillary and that is why I selected it," Scavino added.
Scavino also said that as the campaign's social media director, "I would never offend anyone and therefore chose to remove the image."
Earlier on Monday Trump campaign adviser Ed Brookover told CNN's "New Day" that "there was never any intention of any anti-Semitism."
"There's no anti-Semitism in Mr. Trump's body, not one ounce, not one cell," he told CNN's Alisyn Camerota, adding later: "Not every six-sided star is a Star of David."
When asked if Trump would apologize, Brookover said the campaign had corrected the image and repeatedly said it planned to "move on."
The Clinton campaign said in a statement Monday that the incident "engages extremists."
"Donald Trump's use of a blatantly anti-Semitic image from racist websites to promote his campaign would be disturbing enough, but the fact that it's a part of a pattern should give voters major cause for concern," the campaign's director of Jewish outreach Sarah Bard said. "Now, not only won't he apologize for it, he's peddling lies and blaming others."
Ten days before Trump tweeted the graphic, it first appeared on an Internet message board packed with anti-Semitic and white supremacist views.
The image was posted by an anonymous account on June 22 at 2:16 a.m. EDT in response to a post pointing to news reports that Russian hackers may have breached the Clinton Foundation's computer systems.
Mic.com first reported that the image appeared on the website. CNN confirmed the report using the internet archiving site the Wayback Machine, which allows users to search archived content on websites from days, months and even years earlier.
The image -- which drew a rebuke from the national leader of the Anti-Defamation League and others -- is identical to the one posted on Trump's Twitter account, except it does not include the graphic of a Fox News poll.
Just as in Trump's original tweet, the graphic features a pile of $100 dollar bills and the words "most corrupt candidate ever" on top of a six-pointed star, which evokes the Jewish Star of David.
Before deleting the original tweet, Trump tweeted the same graphic with a tweak: a circle instead of the star.
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski dismissed the controversy in an interview with CNN's Brianna Keilar on "State of the Union" Sunday.
"A tweet is a simple tweet, and the bottom line is you can read into things that are not there. You know, this is a simple star," Lewandowski said.
He said it's "the same star that sheriffs' departments all over the place" use for their badges.
"To read into something that isn't there is -- you know what, again, I think that's the mainstream media trying to attack Donald Trump for something that isn't there," he said.
Lewandowski added that criticism of the star is "political correctness run amok."
But the backlash on Twitter was immediate.
"A Star of David, a pile of cash, and suggestions of corruption. Donald Trump again plays to the white supremacists," said Erick Erickson, a leading anti-Trump conservative.
Erickson quickly added, "For all the people saying 'It's not a Star of David,' why then did Trump tweet it again after replacing it with a circle?"
Katie Packer, another anti-Trump Republican, asked if Trump was "sending some kind of dog whistle."
Liberal commentator Alan Colmes, who is Jewish, called it a "disgusting" tweet that "appeals to anti-Semites."
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the ADL, said in a statement Monday night that the Trump campaign should admit it made a mistake in the imagery of the original tweet.
"Donald Trump should stop playing the blame game and accept that his campaign tweeted an image with obvious anti-Semitic overtones and that, reportedly, was lifted from a white supremacist website," Greenblatt said. "It's long past time for Trump to unequivocally reject the hate-filled extremists orbiting around his campaign and take a stand against anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hate."
On Sunday the ADL, a group devoted to combating anti-Semitism and bigotry, called the campaign's use of an image -- previously posted to an anti-Semitic message board -- "deeply alarming."
Greenblatt said Trump should make clear that those ideas "do not belong in the national conversation."
"I think it would be long overdue for the candidate himself to speak out firmly and forcefully against, again, not just the rhetoric itself and its inherent anti-Semitism and racism, but on those who would promulgate these ideas," Greenblatt said.
He agreed the campaign's decision to delete the tweet on Saturday was a "step in the right direction," but said "it just boggles the mind" that the campaign would use it at all.
Greenblatt said he immediately recognized the anti-Semitic connotations the graphic evoked.
"I get tweeted pictures like this all the time from anti-Semites and racists and white supremacists. The imagery is the classic trope of Jews and money implying that she's raising Jewish money, or something along those lines," Greenblatt said. "Does this look familiar to me? Absolutely."
Trump has staked out a staunchly pro-Israel position, vowing in March that "the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on day one" of his presidency. And just a day before his tweet about Clinton, Trump tweeted that he was "shocked by the heinous murder" of a 13-year-old Israeli-American Jew who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist Thursday in her home in a West Bank settlement.
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His daughter Ivanka is also an observant Jew -- having converted to Judaism before her marriage to businessman Jared Kushner -- and Trump has three Jewish grandchildren.
And on Thursday, he immediately rebuked a man at a campaign rally who criticized "Zionist Israel."
Trump told the man: "Israel is a very, very important ally of the United States and we are going to protect them 100% -- 100%. It's our true friend over there."
On Sunday, Trump noted the death of Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and author who fought for peace, human rights: "On Saturday a great man, Elie Wiesel, passed away. The world is a better place because of him and his belief that good can triumph over evil!"
But Trump has also been slow to disavow anti-Semitic white supremacists who have expressed staunch support for his candidacy.
Trump initially refused to disavow the support of David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard who continues to promulgate Jewish conspiracy theories, when pressed repeatedly about Duke's support in an interview by CNN's Jake Tapper. He would later tweet "I disavow" regarding Duke's support and blamed his initial refusal on a faulty earpiece.
And when pressed on the anti-Semitic vitriol and death threats some of his supporters unleashed online against reporter Julia Ioffe over a profile she wrote about Trump's wife in GQ magazine, Trump said he didn't "know anything about that."
"I don't have a message to the fans," Trump said when pressed on the anti-Semitic death threats in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer in May. "A woman wrote an article that's inaccurate."
Trump has also previously retweeted tweets from apparent neo-Nazi supporters, including one from the account "@WhiteGenocideTM," which also tweeted numerous quotes from Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.