Even before Donald Trump kicked off his town hall event Monday he gathered reporters to decry “politics at its lowest” – but he wasn’t talking about Hillary Clinton or the latest controversy swirling around his campaign, his feud with the parents of a slain Muslim US soldier.
Instead, Trump was unleashing on the local fire marshal, accusing the city official of turning away thousands of Trump supporters without cause. It was the second time in three days Trump has lambasted a local fire marshal during a campaign rally.
“He ought to be ashamed of himself. They turned away thousands of people,” Trump told supporters when he kicked off his rally.
CNN could not independently verify the number of people who were turned away from attending Trump’s campaign event Monday in Columbus. But the Columbus Fire Department rejected Trump’s accusations, insisting it was simply ensuring the event’s safety by keeping the crowd size below the 1,000-person capacity for the venue the campaign had agreed to rent.
“All I can tell you is the venue’s set up for 1,000 people, and I think there was just a big misunderstanding is what it was,” Assistant Columbus Fire Chief Jim Cannell told CNN after the event. “There was a thousand people in here and once we reach capacity we can’t let any more people in.”
Trump teed off on the local fire marshal prior to taking the stage, quickly corralling a throng of reporters into a nearby hallway to complain that thousands of his supporters were being denied entry “purely for political reasons.”
“They said in this massive building you’re not allowed to have any more than a thousand people. And that’s nonsense. We could have had four, five, six thousand people. They’ve all been turned away,” Trump said. “It’s a disgrace.”
“That’s politics at it’s lowest. You ought to check it out, but it’s really politics at it’s lowest. C’mon let’s go have a good time,” Trump said.
Trump’s criticism of the fire marshal came just three days after he was equally critical of a Colorado Springs fire marshal who also cut off entry to a Trump campaign event due to capacity restrictions.
“This is why our country doesn’t work,” Trump had said Friday at the Colorado Springs event, using the fire marshal as an example of government bureaucratic ills. “And then you wonder why we’re going to hell.”
Moments before those remarks, Trump and members of his Secret Service detail got stuck in a stalled elevator. Firefighters with the same Colorado Springs Fire Department came to Trump’s rescue, getting him out of the elevator and onto the stage.
Cannell, the assistant fire chief in Columbus, brushed aside Trump’s very personal criticism of his fire department.
“Sometimes, unfortunately, we’re targets all the time,” Cannell said. “It doesn’t matter to me, it doesn’t upset me, it doesn’t upset our people. We’re just doing our job.”
CNN’s Jason Carroll, Ashley Killough and Noah Gray contributed to this report.