A bitter clash is erupting between Donald Trump and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as the fiery Republican presidential candidate and the prominent business group trade allegations of lying and broken promises over an upcoming presidential forum.
In an interview with CNN on Friday, Trump said he never accepted an invitation to appear at a question-and-answer session that the Hispanic Chamber has promoted for Oct. 8.
“I never agreed to do an event. This is the first time I’m hearing about this. I mean, I never agreed,” the Republican presidential front-runner said in a phone interview. “He wanted me to do an event because he probably can’t sell tickets without me. Why would anybody do an event when he’s a negative person?”
Trump added that he plans to be in Las Vegas on Oct. 8 for a campaign rally.
But the Hispanic Chamber is accusing Trump of abruptly pulling out of the event because of concerns that he might be criticized.
“Clearly, the decision to withdraw from the Q&A was motivated out of fear,” said Javier Palomarez, the CEO of the Hispanic Chamber. “This further disqualifies him as a serious candidate in the eyes of the Hispanic community.”
The clash with the Hispanic Chamber comes as the Hispanic community continues to express discomfort and outrage at some of Trump’s statements about immigration. At the launch of his White House campaign, Trump touched off a firestorm by remarking that some Mexicans entering the country illegally are “rapists” and “criminals.” Hispanic leaders have called on the candidate to alter his tone.
Palomarez met with Trump on Sept. 1 at Trump Tower in New York. The two discussed politically sensitive issues like immigration reform and the Republican presidential front-runner’s rhetoric about the Hispanic community. Trump’s heated rhetoric about immigration and Hispanics has drawn wide condemnation for being harsh and racially charged.
And it was at that meeting that Palomarez says Trump personally committed to participate in the Q&A forum this month. In the room when the agreement was made were Hope Hicks, Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, and Michael Cohen, an adviser and attorney for Trump, according to Palomarez.
“He looked at Mike and told him, ‘Let’s get it done,’” Palomarez said. “Trump, Mike, myself and my guys were all in the room when Trump made the ask.”
Reached on the phone Friday, Cohen repeatedly emphasized that he does not work for the Trump campaign, and referred CNN to the campaign.
Trump told CNN that in their meeting last month, Palomarez asked the candidate to join the Hispanic Chamber.
“He said he’d like me to join his Chamber and I said, ‘how much is it, just out of curiosity?’ He said people pay from $25,000 to $2 million. I said ‘you’ve gotta be kidding,’” he said. “Good luck to them.”
Chamber spokesman Ammar Campa-Najjar denied this ever happened.
A number of 2016 candidates – including Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders – have so far participated in the Chamber’s presidential candidate Q&A series.