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Story highlights

Gingrich said criticism of Trump's controversial anti-Clinton tweet is "the media's deliberate distortion"

Trump will continue to attack the media, the former House speaker said

(CNN) —  

Newt Gingrich on Thursday defended Donald Trump’s controversial tweet about Hillary Clinton featuring the Star of David over a field of money, telling CNN there was nothing anti-Semitic about the image and that the recent uproar was an “absurd” and “demagogic” attack orchestrated by the media.

The former House speaker, who is one of the top candidates to be Trump’s vice presidential nominee, said in a phone interview that he was “very angry” about what he considered to be “the media’s deliberate distortion.” He defended the Republican presumptive nominee, in part by pointing to the Jewish members of Trump’s family.

“I think it is so profoundly dishonest that it sickens me and makes me very angry,” Gingrich said. “The media’s deliberate distortion. It’s absurdity. He has got a son-in-law who’s an Orthodox Jew, his daughter has converted to Judaism, grandchildren who are Jewish. And he gave a speech at AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) that was pretty definitive. And in the middle of this, you get this kind of smear?”

Gingrich also said Trump will continue to attack media outlets – including CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post – in the way that he did at a rally Wednesday in Ohio.

“He’s not going to back off,” he said.

“A substantial part of the campaign is going to be – if you think the news media is honest and fair and totally neutral, then you ought to vote for Hillary. But if you think the news media is biased, then join me,” Gingrich added.

The controversy over Trumps’s tweet began Saturday when Trump tweeted a graphic that labeled Clinton the “most corrupt candidate ever.” The image featured a six-pointed star and a pile of cash – which many critics said had clear anti-Semitic connotations. It was later altered to replace the star with a circle.

It was subsequently revealed that the original image had previously been posted on an anti-Semitic, white supremacist message board.

Gingrich, an outspoken supporter of Israel, echoed Trump’s newest defense of the tweet: that a six-pointed star is featured on a book about the popular Disney movie “Frozen.”

“Just think about it for a second – you’re doing a tweet about how somebody who is a crook so you put in cash. That doesn’t imply that she is Jewish. It implies she’s a crook,” he said. “We found exactly the same star was being used in a book about ‘Frozen’ by Disney. Does anybody want to argue that Frozen is anti-Semitic?”

Gingrich’s defense puts him squarely at odds with other Republicans, including the current House Speaker, Paul Ryan.

The Wisconsin lawmaker slammed the tweet earlier this week and warned that anti-Semitic images “have no place in a presidential campaign.”

“I really believe he has to clean up the way his (social) media works,” Ryan said on the Charlie Sykes radio program. “They’ve got to clean this thing up.”

Under fire for the tweet, Trump has doubled down, once again raising concerns about whether the candidate is capable of practicing message discipline. Republicans fear that the unfiltered rhetoric that helped Trump win the GOP primary will alienate important demographic groups during the general election, including independents and women.

At a rally in Cincinnati, Trump said he “shouldn’t have” removed the original tweet and accused the media of having “racist tendencies.”

“Actually they’re racially profiling. They’re racially profiling. Not us. Why do they bring this up?” Trump said. “These people are sick.”

Gingrich, who campaigned with Trump in Cincinnati, told CNN on Thursday that the issue of the vice presidential selection process did not come up when the two spoke.

“I think he’s checking out the chemistry and the feel with a number of people,” Gingrich said. “We like each other, we have a lot of fun and we’re both willing to take on the traditional system so we’re happily doing that.”

He added that he expects to speak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland later this month.