CNN on Tuesday torched President Donald Trump for calling Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum a “thief” — a charge that the cable network’s anchors and guests alike considered racist.
The president unfurled his attack on Gillum (pictured above right) on Monday during an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham.
“Here’s a guy that, in my opinion, is a stone-cold thief,’’ Trump said. “If Florida has a guy like that … Florida will become Venezuela. It will be a disaster.”
CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin declared that Trump made the allegation “without any evidence” against a candidate who would become Florida’s first black governor. CNN contributor Van Jones, an alum of President Barack Obama’s administration, suggested there is no other interpretation for Trump’s remarks.
If Florida has a guy like that … Florida will become Venezuela. It will be a disaster.”
“To me, that it’s as racist as racist gets,” he said. “There’s no way around it. That is, as far as I’m concerned, he’s just, basically, trying to say, ‘If you put a black guy in charge, he’s gonna steal everything.’ And that’s not subtle. And there’s no basis for it at all. And I hope it blows up in his face.”
Trump made no mention of Gillum’s race. Nor did he make up the allegation out of whole cloth. It is based on reports that the FBI is investigating Tallahassee — where Gillum is mayor — for possible corruption.
Much has dribbled out in the Florida media — though scarcely mentioned on CNN — that implicates Gillium, including official records showing that an undercover FBI agent posing as a developer provided Gillum with a $1,000 ticket to the Broadway musical “Hamilton” in 2016.
Those records came from an attorney for Adam Corey, a former lobbyist and longtime friend of Gillum’s. Those records also indicate that the undercover agent may have paid for a Gillum fundraiser held at Corey’s home. Gillum’s political organization, Forward Florida, did not report the $4,300 fundraiser on campaign finance reports.
Corey also reportedly arranged for trips that Gillum took in 2016.
Trump has built up a long record of insulting political opponents of all stripes, white and black, Democrat and Republican. And his taunts often come in highly personal terms.
It is hard to imagine Trump not using an FBI investigation to bludgeon any Democrat running for governor or Florida, regardless of race. In fact, it is difficult to think any politician of either party would ignore an FBI corruption probe involving his political opponent.
And CNN did not mention a line from the same Fox interview that further suggests that Trump’s motivations were partisan, not racial. He praised John James, the Republican candidate for the Senate in Michigan, a black combat veteran and successful small businessman, as a “star.”
But Jones said it was all about race.
“It’s disgusting, and also it’s desperate,” he said. “Nobody thought that Andrew Gillum, this young, you know, mayor, African-American in a state that Trump won was gonna get anything but get blown out of the water. And this guy has caught fire in Florida.”
Jones emphasized that the FBI investigation is “going on in his city — not against him.”
That assertion is not clear. But even if it is accurate, Gillum is not the first candidate to come under attack for an FBI investigation that does not directly target him. Trump himself has been subject to a sustained campaign during his entire presidency insinuating that his 2016 campaign conspired with Russian agents.
The lynchpin of that narrative has been an FBI investigation, and the fact that no evidence has emerged to support that case — and the fact that Trump’s lawyers have said prosecutors have assured them that the president is not a target — has deterred none of his critics.
But Baldwin agreed with Jones. “It’s racism,” she repeated.
Nia-Malika Henderson, a senior political reporter for CNN, also agreed. She attributed Trump’s criticism of Gillum to “a cultural anxiety about a changing America, a changing Florida, in this case.”