Trump fails to calm 9/11 storm

Trump fails to calm 9/11 storm
© Greg Nash

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Trump speaks to rebel Libyan general attacking Tripoli Dem lawmaker: Mueller report shows 'substantial body of evidence' on obstruction MORE on Tuesday tried to silence skeptics of his claim that thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, pointing to a New York Post column and an MTV News clip as proof. 

But the businessman’s efforts appeared unlikely to end the controversy, which entered its 10th day. 

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The furor over Trump’s 9/11 claims has created perhaps the biggest storm of his presidential campaign, with his aides facing off against an increasingly combative press corps that has tried, without success, to find the video footage he claims to have seen. 

The flap began on Nov. 21, when Trump told a crowd in Birmingham, Ala., “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”

Interviewed on ABC’s “This Week” the following day, he was invited to walk back the claim but adamantly declined to do so. “It was on television. I saw it,” he told host George Stephanopoulos. 

So far, no evidence has been uncovered to suggest there were celebrations at the level Trump had originally suggested, though his campaign is expressing confidence it will be found.

An opinion article Trump tweeted on Tuesday, penned by Fred Siegel, asserted without further detail that “it was easy to get angry listening to Egyptians, Palestinians and the Arabs of nearby Paterson, N.J., celebrate as they received word of the murderous attacks.” Trump said the column was published on Sept. 14, 2001. 

The clip from the MTV News segment he selected, meanwhile, showed radio host Curtis Sliwa talking about people who claimed to have seen “what appeared to be a large group of people celebrating” the terrorist attacks in South Paterson, N.J.

However, the full segment asserted that local news organizations were unable to verify those claims. It also included testimony from a young woman who said she had seen people “with sticks and stones” but that “they were 13, maybe 14 at most. They were kids.”

Trump’s original assertion, especially his emphasis on “thousands and thousands” of people celebrating, has been refuted by fact-checkers at The Washington Post and Politifact. In each case, the claim was given the worst possible rating. 

The controversy has caught fire to such an extent that many of Trump’s rivals have had to address the matter. Ben Carson at first told reporters that he had seen similar celebrations in New Jersey, but a spokesman later said the former neurosurgeon had been thinking of news footage from the Middle East. 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) told CNN that Trump’s claim was “just wrong. It’s factually wrong.”

The dispute has further exacerbated tensions between the Trump campaign and the news media. The candidate had a notably tetchy exchange with Chuck Todd, the anchor of NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, with Todd insisting, “Your words matter! Truthfulness matters!” and Trump shooting back, “Take it easy, Chuck, just play cool.”

When Michael Cohen, special counsel for Trump, defended his boss’s remarks during an interview on Monday with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he asserted, "Mr. Trump’s memory is fantastic, and I’ve never come across a situation where Mr. Trump has said something that is not accurate.”

“Seriously?” Tapper replied.

The still-burning controversy is likely to raise further questions about Trump’s electability should he become the GOP presidential nominee. But the businessman has also survived earlier disputes without suffering any damage in the polls.