BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — A day after defending his use of social media as befitting a “modern day” president, President Trump appeared to promote violence against CNN in a tweet.
Trump, who is on vacation at his Bedminster golf resort, posted on Twitter an old video clip of him performing in a WWE professional wrestling match, but with a CNN logo superimposed on the head of his opponent. In the clip, Trump is shown slamming the CNN avatar to the ground and pounding him with simulated punches and elbows to the head. Trump added the hashtags #FraudNewsCNN and #FNN, for “fraud news network.”
The video clip apparently had been posted days earlier on Reddit, a popular social media message board. The president's tweet was the latest escalation in his beef with CNN over its coverage of him and his administration.
A White House spokeswoman with the traveling press corps hotel here in Bridgewater, N.J., a few miles from Trump's golf club, declined to address questions about the tweet. Trump has no public events planned for Sunday; his schedule lists phone calls Sunday night with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He is scheduled to return to Washington on Monday evening and participate in an Independence Day event at the White House on Tuesday.
On ABC’s “This Week,” homeland security adviser Tom Bossert dismissed the idea that the tweet might be a threat, while he praised the president for “genuine” communication.
“No one would perceive that as a threat; I hope they don’t,” Bossert said, referring to the tweet.
In a statement tweeted out by CNN media reporter Brian Stelter, CNN called it “a sad day when the President of the United States encourages violence against reporters.” The network cited Trump's “juvenile behavior far below the dignity of his office. We will keep doing our jobs. He should start doing his.”
The company's communications department Twitter account responded to Trump's tweet by quoting White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders during a briefing last week when she said: “The president in no way form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence. If anything, quite the contrary.”
In the statement, CNN said: “Clearly, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied when she said the President had never done so.”
Some Trump supporters noted on social media that the violence in professional wrestling is simulated and that the president was making a symbolic point about “fake news” coverage of him. But questions about the political climate for journalists has swirled for weeks since Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) body-slammed a reporter for the Guardian the day before a special election, which he won. Gianforte, who had initially denied Jacobs' account, later apologized to him and was sentenced in court to 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management classes.
Trump's ire at CNN has increased since CNN retracted a story last week that said the Senate was investigating connections between one of his transition aides and the head of a Russian bank; three reporters and editors resigned over the report, which the network said failed to go through the proper vetting, but the White House has continued to denounce the story.
On Saturday, Trump called CNN “fake news” and “garbage journalism.” He also implied that his critics are wrong to suggest that it is beneath the office of the presidency to attack rivals on Twitter. He said he was compelled to weaponize the medium to defeat “fake news” organizations.
Trump also spent a chunk of a speech at the Celebrate Freedom rally for veterans and religious freedom at the Kennedy Center on Saturday night denouncing and taunting the media.
“The fake media is trying to silence us, but we will not let them. The people know the truth,” Trump said. “The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House, but I’m president and they’re not.”
He drew a standing ovation from the crowd, which waved miniature American flags.
The video clip appears to be from a WWE appearance in which the president body slammed WWE Chairman Vince McMahon as part of the “Battle of the Billionaires.”
Trump, a New York real estate developer and promoter, has had a long association with the WWE and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2013. At the ceremony, McMahon referred to Trump as “a Wrestlemania institution” and recalled this episode, which culminated with Trump participating in shaving McMahon's head in the ring.
“I will challenge Vince next year to a fight,” Trump said in his acceptance speech, “and I will kick his ass, if he wants. I will kick his ass.”
Trump appointed McMahon's wife, Linda, who donated $6 million to a pro-Trump SuperPAC, as the head of the federal Small Business Administration.
Bossert echoed a line of defense that other Trump surrogates have employed in recent days: that when Trump's policies are attacked in the media, he has a right to counterpunch — in this case, physically.
“He’s beaten up, in a way, on the cable platforms — he has a right to respond,” Bossert said.
Bossert argued that the tweet might actually a good thing because “whatever the content of that tweet or any particular tweet, he’s generated a genuine ability to communicate directly” with the public.
“Importantly here, he’s a genuine president expressing himself genuinely,” Bossert said. He added that he was “pretty proud of the president for developing a Twitter and a social media platform where he can talk directly to the American people.”
When “This Week” host Martha Raddatz pressed him to weigh in on the appropriateness of the tweet, Bossert accused the media of harping on it instead of focusing on more substantive issues.
“It’s a good example of you or the media producers here deciding what we talk about and what we don’t talk about,” he said.
On CBS's “Face the Nation,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said that “it’s not going to do any good” for himself or anyone else to talk about “things we might not like about his Twitter behavior.” If they want to elevate discourse, Lee, said, lawmakers should “make sure we do whatever we can to treat others kindly.”
On CNN's “State of the Union,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said he is concerned about Trump's attacks on the media more broadly.
“There's an important distinction to draw between bad stories or crappy coverage and the right that citizens have to argue about that and complain about that and trying to weaponize distrust,” Sasse said.
— Karoun Demirjian and John Wagner contributed to this report.