Video from a South Carolina campaign stop this Tuesday appears to show Trump mocking a New York Times reporter with a congenital joint condition that affects the movement of his arms. Trump’s campaign issued a statement on Thursday denying the allegation.
The reporter, Serge Kovaleski, authored a 2001 article in the Washington Post which Trump has claimed as proof that “thousands of Muslims” in New Jersey celebrated while watching the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11. Published a week after the towers fell, Kovaleski’s article refers to “a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks.”
Online, Kovaleski’s article now features a disclaimer that links to a fact-check—published by the Post on Nov. 22—that finds Trump’s claim “outrageous.” In it, Kovaleski comments that he doesn’t recall whether the 14-year-old allegations had ever been confirmed. “I certainly do not remember anyone saying that thousands or even hundreds of people were celebrating,” said Kovaleski.
On Tuesday, Trump appeared to mock Kovaleski, who has arthrogryposis, by contorting his arms in a crude impersonation. “Now, the poor guy—you ought to see the guy: ‘Uh, I don’t know what I said. I don’t remember,’” he said.
After Trump’s behavior was noted by reporters, his campaign denied it happened, saying that—despite telling the crowd “you ought to see the guy”—Trump had never actually met Kovaleski and was unaware of his disability at the time.
“I have no idea who this reporter, Serge Kovalski (sic) is, what he looks like or his level of intelligence,” Trump wrote in an official statement. “I don’t know if he is J.J. Watt or Muhammad Ali in his prime—or somebody of less athletic or physical ability. If Mr. Kovaleski is handicapped, I would not know because I do not know what he looks like.”
A spokesperson for the Times told NBC News that the paper was outraged Trump “would ridicule the appearance” of one of its reporters.
Statement from Donald Trump on accusations he crudely impersonated reporter Serge Kovaleski pic.twitter.com/Cq9ZF3yrN8
— Steve Kornacki (@SteveKornacki) November 26, 2015
In Kovaleski’s 2001 Post article, he wrote: “…law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.”
As the Post previously noted, “a number of people” does not equal “thousands.” And when Kovaleski wrote that “allegedly” people were seen celebrating the attacks, he meant the authorities had not provided any evidence.
Trump claimed that he saw these celebrations with his own eyes on television and they were widely covered in the media. An exhaustive search of news clips and television footage from the period has so far turned up no evidence to support Trump’s story.
In a tweet on Sunday, New Jersey Mayor Steven Fulop said that either Trump “has memory issues or willfully distorts the truth, either of which should be concerning for the Republican Party.”
Art by Tiffany Pai