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Trump tells officials anti-Semitic threats could be to 'make others look bad'

By Joseph Ax and Karen Freifeld

(Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Tuesday said that a spate of bomb threats against Jewish centers could have been an attempt "to make others look bad," according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who attended a White House meeting with other state law enforcement officials.

Trump's comments as described by Shapiro appeared to suggest that some of the threats may have been manufactured for political reasons. Trump made similar remarks at a news conference earlier this month when asked about acts of discrimination, saying some incidents were created by his opponents to generate negative media coverage.

During a meeting at the White House with dozens of state attorneys general on Tuesday, Trump called the threats "reprehensible," said Shapiro, who summarized the president's remarks during a conference call with reporters.

But Trump then added that "the reverse could be true" and that the incidents could be aimed at making "someone else look bad," said Shapiro, a Democrat.

The president's words came in response to a question about the threats from Shapiro, who said two of his children had to be evacuated from their day school on Monday.

"I found that statement to be a bit curious," Shapiro said, though he declined to speculate about what Trump may have meant.

Sarah Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, said she was not part of Tuesday's meeting, referring to it as a "private conversation," but said the president has always condemned anti-Semitic acts.

"What I do know is the conversations I have had with the president," Sanders said. "He's been extremely clear and extremely consistent on this topic: Any act of violence toward people of the Jewish faith is condemned by this administration."

The discussion came a day after Jewish community centers and schools in at least 13 states reported receiving bomb threats, the fifth such wave this year. The incidents, which Shapiro said now total 100, have alarmed Jewish groups fearful that anti-Semitism is on the rise. No explosives have been found in any of the incidents reported this year.

The Mississippi attorney general, Democrat Jim Hood, largely confirmed Shapiro's account.

"He kind of said something to the effect, maybe that was an insider job," Hood said. "He said something about, some of the time those situations happen to make another look bad."

Another Democratic attorney general, Oregon's Ellen Rosenblum, said she was "utterly confused" by what Trump meant by "reverse."

"It was a cordial exchange, so nobody followed up," Rosenblum said.

Herbert Slatery, the Republican attorney general from Tennessee, said Trump clearly denounced the threats before engaging in what Slatery described as a "hypothetical."

"I thought it was fairly innocuous," Slatery said.

The president told the attorneys general that he would discuss the threats in his address to Congress on Tuesday night.

Trump did not condemn the threats explicitly until last week, prompting criticism from Jewish leaders for what they viewed as a tepid response.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Ayesha Rascoe in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler)

 

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