“In Florida there is a choice between a Harvard/Yale educated man named @RonDeSantisFL who has been a great Congressman and will be a great Governor - and a Dem who is a thief and who is Mayor of poorly run Tallahassee, said to be one of the most corrupt cities in the Country!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Trump did not make explicit why he considers Gillum a thief. Tallahassee has been the subject of a federal public-corruption probe, but Gillum has repeatedly said that he did nothing wrong and that the FBI told him in June 2017 that he was not a “focus” of its investigation.
Gillum responded to Trump on Twitter, saying the president was “howling because he’s weak,” and urged voters in Florida to vote early. Gillum also questioned Trump’s “courage” because his tweet did not include Gillum’s Twitter handle.
Trump also drew accusations on social media of sending a racially coded message, given Gillum is black.
On Twitter, terrorism expert and MSNBC commentator Malcom Nance referred to Trump as “the #RacistinChief,” writing: “There it is. America is burning & this petulant crying baby wannabe King is publicly calling a distinguished Black man running for Governor a ‘Thief’”
Asked Monday at a briefing why Trump considers Gillum a thief, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders referenced the FBI investigation but declined to cite any specifics. She said she was not permitted to do so because of a federal law that limits the political activity of executive branch employees in their official capacity.
Last week, Gillum was put on the defensive by the release of text messages that showed that he used a ticket from an undercover FBI agent posing as a real estate developer to see the Broadway show “Hamilton” in 2016.
Gillum dismissed the importance of the newly disclosed records, saying that his brother had obtained the ticket and that “the idea that I accepted a gift never came to me.”
The FBI agent, who identified himself as “Mike Miller,” is widely believed to have been working undercover in a probe that has examined the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
During a television appearance last week, DeSantis argued that the actions of the FBI agent show that Gillum is under investigation.
“Why the heck would law enforcement send an undercover agent to line his pockets if he wasn’t under investigation? Of course he is,” De Santis said on “Fox & Friends.”
The Florida Commission on Ethics is also investigating whether Gillum paid his own way on trips with lobbyists to New York and Costa Rica.
Trump’s endorsement of DeSantis was key to his victory in the Republican primary. Recent polls have showed Gillum with a narrow lead in the race to succeed Gov. Rick Scott (R). Trump is planning to return to Florida on Wednesday to hold a rally touting DeSantis’s candidacy.
Trump’s tweet echoes a line of attack DeSantis has been advancing against Gillum in the closing days of the race.
During an interview Monday morning on SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Daily, DeSantis said that Gillum is “knee-deep in corruption.”
“This is a guy who has consistently used public office to feather his own nest,” DeSantis alleged.