In a statement issued by his Republican presidential campaign Monday evening, Trump suggested Clinton and her allies were using the matter to distract from her own recent campaign troubles.
Trump said the tweet portrayed “a basic star, often used by sheriffs who deal with criminals and criminal behavior,” as part of an effort to convey that “Crooked Hillary is the most corrupt candidate ever.”
It was the presumptive GOP nominee’s most extensive comment since his official account tweeted— then deleted — the image Saturday, sparking uproar over its potentially anti-Semitic connotations. Trump’s account later posted a new version with a circle in place of the six-point star.
Addressing the origins of the tweet for the first time, Trump campaign social media director Dan Scavino said in a statement posted on Trump’s Facebook page Monday evening that he had lifted it from an anti-Clinton Twitter feed and had never intended to offend anyone.
“The social media graphic used this weekend was not created by the campaign nor was it sourced from an anti-Semitic site. It was lifted from an anti-Hillary Twitter user where countless images appear,” he wrote.
He said that the star, which he described as a sheriff’s badge “fit with the theme of corrupt Hillary and that is why I selected it.”
“As the social media director for the campaign, I would never offend anyone and therefore chose to remove the image,” he added.
The now-deleted @FishBoneHead1 account that appears to have first posted the image featured a series of anti-Clinton memes as well as other provocative and offensive images. The image had also appeared on a white supremacist message board filled with anti-Semitic messages.
Scavino did not respond to a follow-up question about whether @FishBoneHead1 was the “anti-Hillary” Twitter account he was referring to.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said Trump’s attempt to dismiss the concerns of people who have taken issue with the post “falls somewhere between absurd and offensive.”
“It’s not a left-wing issue or a right-wing issue,” he said. “It’s not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. It’s a matter of common sense.” Greenblatt said: “It would be appropriate and timely for the presumptive GOP nominee for the White House to say unequivocally, I want nothing to do with these ideas,” and to say “hate has no place in making America great again.”
Earlier Monday, Sarah Bard, director of Jewish outreach for Clinton’s Democratic presidential campaign, said in a statement that “Trump’s use of a blatantly anti-Semitic image from racist websites to promote his campaign” was part of a pattern by him. “Now, not only won’t he apologize for it, he’s peddling lies and blaming others,” she added. “Trump should be condemning hate, not offering more campaign behavior and rhetoric that engages extremists.”
In his statement, Trump accused Clinton’s campaign of using the tweet to try to “divert attention from the dishonest behavior of herself and her husband.” He cited her “missing emails” and Bill Clinton’s impromptu meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch as her agency oversees the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.
Trump has long professed his support for Israel and his daughter converted to Judaism before her marriage. But he has come under scrutiny for repeatedly re-tweeting posts from white supremacists’ accounts and for not immediately renouncing the support of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke.