Trump Orders Surrogates to Intensify Criticism of Judge and Journalists
An embattled Donald Trump urgently rallied his most visible supporters to defend his attacks on a federal judge's Mexican ancestry during a conference call on Monday in which he ordered them to question the judge's credibility and impugn reporters as racists.
“We will overcome,” Trump said, according to two supporters who were on the call and requested anonymity to share their notes with Bloomberg Politics. “And I’ve always won and I’m going to continue to win. And that’s the way it is.”
There was no mention of apologizing or backing away from his widely criticized remarks about U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is overseeing cases against the Trump University real-estate program.
When former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer interrupted the discussion to inform Trump that his own campaign had asked surrogates to stop talking about the lawsuit in an e-mail on Sunday, Trump repeatedly demanded to know who sent the memo, and immediately overruled his staff.
“Take that order and throw it the hell out,” Trump said.
Told the memo was sent by Erica Freeman, a staffer who circulates information to surrogates, Trump said he didn't know her. He openly questioned how the campaign could defend itself if supporters weren't allowed to talk.
“Are there any other stupid letters that were sent to you folks?” Trump said. “That's one of the reasons I want to have this call, because you guys are getting sometimes stupid information from people that aren't so smart.”
Brewer, who was on the call with prominent Republicans like Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, interjected again. “You all better get on the page,” she told him. Former Reagan aide Jeffrey Lord said Tuesday on CNN he was also on the call.
In response, Trump said that he aspired to hold regular calls with surrogates in order to coordinate the campaign's message, a role usually reserved for lower ranking staffers than the nominee himself.
The e-mailed memo, sent by Freeman on Sunday, was cc'd to campaign manager Corey Lewandowski; Hope Hicks, Trump's top communications staffer; and Rick Gates, a top aide to campaign chairman Paul Manafort. It informed surrogates that “they're not authorized to discuss matters concerning the Trump Organization including corporate news such as the Trump University case.”
“The best possible response is ‘the case will be tried in the courtroom in front of a jury—not in the media,’” according to the e-mail, obtained by Bloomberg Politics.
Hicks declined to address the specifics of the conversation with surrogates.
“The call was scheduled in order for Mr. Trump to thank his supporters and congratulate everyone as the primaries officially come to an end,” Hicks told Bloomberg Politics. “Many topics were discussed and it was a productive call for all parties.”
Trump's five weeks as the presumptive nominee have been marked by several missteps: A refusal to release his tax returns; confusion among donors over which super-PAC to give money to; audio of him using a pseudonym to act as his own publicist; and failing to donate to veterans groups as promised until pressed by the media.
But the most incendiary controversy has been his handling of Trump University.
Trump ignited the controversy when he defended his real-estate program by saying Curiel has an inherent conflict of interest because of his Mexican heritage, because the candidate has proposed building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border to curb illegal immigration. Curiel was born in Indiana, and Trump's complaint has been criticized by Republican leaders, legal experts, and other commentators. Trump on Sunday broadened his argument by saying on CBS that it’s possible a Muslim judge could treat him unfairly too, because of his proposed ban on Muslim immigration.
“I should have won this thing years ago,” Trump said on the call about the case, adding that Curiel is a “member of La Raza.” Curiel is affiliated with La Raza Lawyers of California, a Latino bar association.
A clearly irritated Trump told his supporters to attack journalists who ask questions about the lawsuit and his comments about the judge.
“The people asking the questions—those are the racists,” Trump said. “I would go at ’em.”
Suggesting a broader campaign against the media, Trump said the campaign should also actively criticize television reporters. “I'd let them have it,” he said, referring to those who Trump portrayed as hypocrites.
—With assistance from Angela Greiling Keane.