President Donald Trump has called the handling of hate crime hoax allegations against Jussie Smollett ‘disgraceful,’ blasting the Empire actor and prosecutors who dropped charges against him.
Trump’s speech on Saturday night in Green Bay, Wisconsin was nearly all politics, but he detoured into pop culture long enough to complain about Smollett’s case.
Smollett, who is black and gay, claimed that he was attacked on a Chicago street by two white men shouting racist and anti-gay slurs while telling Smollett he was in ‘MAGA Country’.
‘We may have the greatest theme in the history of politics. It’s called “Make America Great Again.” It’s called MAGA Country,’ Trump said.
Trump’s speech on Saturday night in Green Bay, Wisconsin was nearly all politics, but he detoured into pop culture long enough to complain about Smollett’s case
Smollett (front), who is black and gay, claimed that he was attacked on a Chicago street by two white men shouting racist and anti-gay slurs while telling Smollett he was in ‘MAGA Country’
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office drew criticism for dropping all charges against Smollett in the case
‘You know, I didn’t hear that term until that third-rate actor in Chicago went out and he said, “I was beaten up by MAGA Country.” Can you believe it? Now that’s a hate crime right?’
‘He said he was beaten up by MAGA Country,’ Trump said. ‘Turned out to be a total lie.’
After two Nigerian bodybuilders gave sworn testimony that Smollett had paid them to stage the attack as a hoax, the actor was charged with 16 felony counts of filing a false report. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office later controversially dropped all of the charges.
Referring to what critics call the sweetheart deal from prosecutors, the president was indignant.
‘That case in Chicago is a disgrace to our nation. Disgrace,’ he said.
Saturday’s rally was scheduled as counter-programming to the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington DC, and Trump made sure to give Sarah Sanders a chance to get her licks.
Sanders, the second White House press secretary to serve the 45th president, endured a series of aggressive insults at least year’s dinner in Washington, listening as comedian Michelle Wolf called her a liar and an embarrassment to women.
Trump invited her to the stage in Green Bay after his audience erupted in chants of ‘Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!’ at his first mention of her name.
‘Thanks to all the amazing things you’ve done for this country,’ she said at Trump’s podium. ‘Last year this night I was at a slightly different event. Not quite the best welcome.’
Trump embraces White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders during a Make America Great Again rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin on Saturday
Sanders speaks alongside US President Donald Trump during a Make America Great Again rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin
Comedian Michelle Wolf called Sanders a liar and an embarrassment to women at last year’s dinner
Sanders hasn’t held a press briefing in nearly seven weeks, but on Saturday she spoke to more than 10,000 people in Wisconsin as a skeleton crew of reporters looked on and the rest of the industry boozed and schmoozed back in D.C.
Trump referred to her as ‘the great Sarah Huckabee,’ using her maiden name.
After hearing Sanders rattle off a list of his accomplishments and scorch his detractors, the president re-enacted the most famous moment from his NBC series ‘The Apprentice’ and pretended to fire her in public.
‘Oh, she doesn’t get it. She doesn’t get it. She doesn’t understand me after all these years,’ he joked.
‘She’s becoming too popular. I’m jealous. Sarah, you’re fired!’
Sanders’ litany of wins seemed aimed at the reporters she corrals daily, a group she has characterized as an unfairly hyper-critical bunch.
‘They said he couldn’t win in 2016 and he did,’ she said.
‘They said that he couldn’t make our economy better, and it’s booming. They said he couldn’t rebuild the military, and he’s done it. they said there was collusion and there wasn’t.
‘They’ve questioned him at every step, and he’s proven them wrong every single time because of all of you. Thank you Mr. President for leading our country. Thank you!’
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks at a Make America Great Again rally at the Resch Center Complex in Green Bay
Members of the audience cheer as President Donald Trump takes the stage at a rally at Resch Center Complex in Green Bay
Wolf, the stand-up comic, roasted Sarah at the 2018 dinner with unusual vigor, crossing a line into what many observers saw as cheap-shot territory.
Calling her ‘Aunt Lydia in “The Handmaid’s Tale”,’ Wolf said Sanders was ‘very resourceful, like she burns facts, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye.’
‘Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.’
‘And I’m never really sure what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders, you know?’ she continued. ‘Is it Sarah Sanders, is it Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is it Cousin Huckabee, is it Auntie Huckabee Sanders?’
‘Like, what’s Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh, I know. Ann Coulter.’
Bloomberg News reporter Margaret Talev, then the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said afterward that the insult-comic act was ‘not in the spirit’ of the dinner’s goal of celebrating the First Amendment.
Trump has held counter-programming rallies during all three White House Correspondents’ Association dinners during his presidency. The others were held in Michigan and Pennsylvania, both swing states like Wisconsin.
Unlike the past two performances, however, he delivered mostly muted attacks on the news outlets he loves to hate.
He didn’t mention a controversial New York Times editorial cartoon, which the newspaper retracted earlier in the day. It showed him holding a leash and walking a dog whose face was drawn as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
US President Donald Trump waves as he arrives for a Make America Great Again rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin
And he didn’t mention the dinner or the reporters’ association whose annual invitation he has consistently rubbished.
But he couldn’t resist a moment of needling his least favorite cable TV network.
As he rattled off a list of record or near-record unemployment figures, he pointed to the press section and cautioned the audience that he had to parse his words carefully.
‘If I make any misstatement, if I’m off by just a little tiny bit, those people back there will be – headlines!’ he said.
‘So I have to be very careful. Fake news. They’re fake! They are fake. They are fakers!’
As his audience broke into a now-standard chant of ‘CNN sucks! CNN sucks! CNN sucks!’ the president wound up for a rhetorical swing.
‘I’ll tell you, you know what sucks?’ he asked. ‘Their ratings suck.’
The president complained earlier that a faulty weather report, promising snow, had nearly forced the event’s cancellation.
‘The people who get it wrong the most,’ he complained, ‘are the weather forecasters and the political analysts.’
The leadership of the correspondents’ association opted this year to break with tradition and ask a presidential historian, not a comedian, to deliver the keynote dinner speech.
Ron Chernow, who wrote the book that Lin-Manuel Miranda adapted into the ‘Hamilton’ musical, got the honors.
Trump gives a thumbs up during a Make America Great Again rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin on Saturday