After Meryl Streep condemned Donald Trump for his imitation of a disabled New York Times reporter in her impassioned Golden Globes speech Sunday night, the president-elect took to Twitter to fire back with a denial, claiming he “never ‘mocked’ a disabled reporter” and “would never do that.”
The president-elect insisted that, rather than mocking reporter Serge F. Kovaleski — who has a congenital joint condition called arthrogryposis that limits flexibility in his arms — for his disability, Trump was actually doing an impression of Kovaleski “groveling.”
“For the 100th time, I never ‘mocked’ a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him … ‘groveling’ when he totally changed a 16 year old story that he had written in order to make me look bad,” Trump’s tweet said. “Just more very dishonest media!”
You can watch the video yourself above, and here’s some background on this resurfaced controversy.
It all started on the campaign trail in 2015 when, in an effort to bolster his widely debunked claim that Muslims in New Jersey danced and cheered as the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, Trump pointed to a 2001 article Kovaleski co-wrote for The Washington Post that said, “Law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.”
Asked about the article in 2015, Kovaleski gave the same statement to every news organization, according to The Washington Post: “I certainly do not remember anyone saying that thousands or even hundreds of people were celebrating. That was not the case, as best as I can remember.”
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When Kovaleski’s comments got back to Trump, he took time out of a Nov. 2015 campaign rally to berate the reporter, and appeared to mock his physical condition in his impersonation.
After first referring to Kovaleski as a “nice reporter,” Trump added, while jerking his arms around in front of his body, “Now, the poor guy — you’ve got to see this guy, ‘Ah, I don’t know what I said! I don’t remember!’ “
The gesture was met with widespread scrutiny as Trump was accused of mocking Kovaleski’s disability. Trump insisted in a statement at the time that he had never met Kovaleski and didn’t know about his condition.
“I have no idea who this reporter, Serge Kovalski [sic], is, what he looks like or his level of intelligence,” Trump said. “Despite having one of the all-time great memories, I certainly do not remember him. What I do know is that after 14 years and no retraction, this reporter tried to pull away from the tailgate party paragraph he wrote many years ago for The Washington Post.”
Trump also claimed that he had “merely mimicked what I thought would be a flustered reporter trying to get out of a statement he made long ago,” adding that if “Mr. Kovaleski is handicapped, I would not know because I do not know what he looks like. If I did know, I would definitely not say anything about his appearance.”
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In an interview with The New York Times shortly after the 2015 incident, Kovaleski said that he met with Trump repeatedly when he was a reporter for New York Daily News covering the businessman between 1987 and 1993.
“Donald and I were on a first-name basis for years,” Kovaleski said. “I’ve interviewed him in his office. I’ve talked to him at press conferences. All in all, I would say around a dozen times I’ve interacted with him as a reporter while I was at The Daily News.”
Kovaleski tweeted a link to The New York Times story at the time:
He also told The Washington Post at the time that he was sure Trump remembered him and his condition, saying, “The sad part about it is, it didn’t in the slightest bit jar or surprise me that Donald Trump would do something this low-rent, given his track record.”
Hillary Clinton‘s campaign later highlighted the incident in an attack ad released in battleground states in July of last year.
Trump defended his controversial comments again at a rally in Colorado on July 29 of last year, explaining:
“All of the sudden, the guy — I think the article was almost 15 years old — he starts changing the article, that he made a mistake, he this, he that. I didn’t know what he looked like. I didn’t know he was disabled. I didn’t know it, I didn’t know it at all. I had no idea. So I started imitating somebody — I didn’t speak to the guy — somebody that was groveling. Everyone know what grovel is? At the time I did the act, I did the whole thing with groveling. And I said he’s groveling, he said, ‘no, no, the article, I was wrong on the article.’ I was doing a whole big number. ‘I was wrong, I promise you, I made a mistake when I wrote the article.’ “
“He was groveling, grovel, grovel, grovel,” Trump continued. “That was the end of it. All of a sudden, I get reports that I was imitating a reporter who was handicapped. I would never do that.”