Trump claims 75-year-old man shoved by Buffalo police could be part of 'set up'

President TrumpDonald John Trump Trump responds to calls to tear down monuments with creation of 'National Garden' of statues Trump: Children are taught in school to 'hate their own country' Trump accuses those tearing down statues of wanting to 'overthrow the American Revolution' MORE on Tuesday shared an unfounded conspiracy theory that an incident in which an elderly man was pushed to the ground by police in Buffalo, N.Y., during a protest over the police killing of George Floyd could be a "set up."

The president cited right-wing One America News Network (OANN) in making the incendiary claim, which comes amid a national debate over police brutality.

"Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment," Trump tweeted, appearing to refer to a report on OANN.

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"I watched, he fell harder than was pushed," the president added. "Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?"

Two Buffalo police officers were charged with assault after video went viral of them shoving Gugino after he approached them during the protest. The 75-year-old staggered and fell backward, hitting his head on the concrete and lying motionless as blood pooled on the sidewalk and the officers walked away. 

The department originally claimed Gugino "tripped and fell."

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The officers, Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe, have pleaded not guilty in the incident. Gugino is still in the hospital.

The president's tweet was widely condemned by Democrats, including those in New York.

"He should apologize for that tweet," Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoChicago mayor issues emergency travel advisory for those coming from states with coronavirus surges Chamber of Commerce, trade groups call for national standard on requiring masks De Blasio says NYC public schools plan to reopen in September MORE (D) said at a news conference, calling the president's comments "reprehensible" and "dumb."

"There is no room for your hate and division here @realdonaldTrump We are a community looking to heal. Your words only week to tear us apart," Rep. Brian HigginsBrian HigginsBiden slams Trump for promoting conspiracy theory about man shoved by police Trump claims 75-year-old man shoved by Buffalo police could be part of 'set up' NY, NJ lawmakers call for more aid to help fight coronavirus MORE (D), who represents parts of Buffalo, tweeted.

Few Republicans weighed in on the tweet, though Ari Fleischer, ex-press secretary for former President George W. Bush, said that Trump's "penchant for trafficking in conspiracy theories" was "reckless."

Trump pushed the conspiracy theory as the nation reckons with patterns of police brutality and racial injustice in the wake of the death of Floyd, an unarmed black man who died late last month after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Protests across the country have persisted for nearly two weeks to call for policing reforms and racial equality, including in the nation's capital near the White House.

While Trump has denounced Floyd's death as a "grave tragedy" and a "disgrace," he has largely sided with law enforcement by calling for "law and order" and urging state leaders to "dominate" their streets against demonstrators.

He and other administration officials have blamed antifa, loosely organized groups of far-left activists, for the unrest, even as the gatherings have been largely peaceful.

The president hosted a roundtable of law enforcement officers at the White House on Monday, where he rejected calls to "defund the police," a slogan used by activists and some progressive lawmakers to call for a reduction in police budgets or a reconfiguration of policing entirely.

Trump has yet to meet in person with any protest leaders or groups advocating for police reform.

Congressional Democrats introduced sweeping reforms on Monday designed to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The legislation aims to rein in the use of excessive force, particularly the violence targeting blacks and other minorities.

The White House has offered no specifics of its own for policing reforms it would support. A spokeswoman said Monday that Trump had not reviewed the Democrats' legislation but called its proposal to reduce immunity for police officers a "non-starter."

--This report was updated at 11:54 a.m.