GOP front-runner Donald Trump concluded a meeting today of African-American pastors with the backing of some of the participants, but not the blanket endorsement he had initially advertised.
The outcome of his New York meeting didn't seem to faze Trump, however, saying he was "amazed" by today's events and it was a “beautiful thing" that none of the attendees asked him to change the tone of his message.
“I think they want to see victory because it is about we want to win and we want to win together,” he said after the meeting this afternoon.
Trump’s campaign had originally promoted today’s meeting, which reportedly involved nearly 100 African-American pastors, as an endorsement, sending out a news release Wednesday using that language. The meeting was supposed to be followed by a news conference, which was canceled this weekend, and no media was invited to the closed meeting.
But Trump was endorsed by some members of the group, including the Rev. Darrell Scott of the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and Pastor Steve Parson, a Richmond-area minister in Virginia.
“He’s best for not only the country but certainly the black community,” Parson said. “We’re wanting to get off of welfare and we feel that can be done through the information the knowledge of a person like Donald Trump.”
While other participants didn’t outright condone him, they also didn’t endorse him, expressing reservations about comments Trump has previously made that could be construed as offensive.
“We’re deeply disturbed by the lack of empathy that he seems to show,” one participant who was invited by Scott said before the meeting. “I think that’s a real thing to talk about.”
After news of the meeting became public, over 100 leaders in the African-American community published an open letter to the ministers, urging the attendees to consider Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail, which they called “overtly divisive and racist.”
“I was told it was an endorsement,” Trump said today of the meeting on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I have fantastic relationships with the people, but I think pressure was put on them when they heard there was a meeting by people who disagree.”
Katrina Pierson, the Trump campaign's national spokeswoman, said today on CNN's “New Day” that it would be too confusing to label the meeting as an endorsement because the entire group was not endorsing him.
"A lot of the pastors were concerned they might get backlash if they weren't one of the pastors that were endorsing at this time," Pierson explained on “New Day.”
"So the campaign decided, you know what? We want to have the meeting. All the pastors will meet with Mr. Trump and we'll close it to the media."
Trump, 69, also stood by his comments about Muslims cheering on 9/11 in New Jersey, insisting this morning he saw the footage, and did not confuse it with scenes of celebrations from the West Bank. When asked why no one could find the video, Trump said it had not been archived properly.
“Fourteen, 15 years ago, they didn't put it in files. They destroy half the stuff,” Trump asserted.
Trump reiterated that Serge Kovaleski, who wrote the 2001 Washington Post article claiming that authorities detained people “allegedly seen celebrating the attacks,” which Trump had been citing as defense for his claims at rallies, is now trying to pull back his reporting.
Trump is embroiled in a controversy over whether he mocked Kovaleski’s disability during a rally last week. He has denied mocking the reporter.