The US Secret Service has spoken with Donald Trump’s campaign team over comments by the Republican presidential candidate that appeared to suggest violent action against his rival, Hillary Clinton, CNN reported Wednesday.
A Service official said “there has been more than one conversation” between the Secret Service — tasked with protecting presidential candidates in the run-up to November’s election — and the Trump camp.
In response, the campaign insisted that the candidate had no intention of inciting violence in comments about the right to bear arms during a speech he made the day before.
Trump claimed he was referring to the power of the gun rights movement when he said that Second Amendment advocates could take action to stop Clinton. He said there’s “no other interpretation.”
Trump’s intended message was not immediately clear, but lawmakers, former national security officials and other critics expressed concern that Trump had advocated, possibly in jest, that Clinton or her Supreme Court nominees could be shot.
“Hillary wants to essentially abolish the Second Amendment,” Trump told a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, referring to the US Constitution’s clause that enshrines the right to bear arms.
“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Trump said. “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”
The Secret Service response, communicated via Twitter, gave weight to suggestions the comments may constitute incitement to violence but did not say whether they merited an investigation, which some Democratic lawmakers have called for.
The Secret Service is aware of the comments made earlier this afternoon.
— U.S. Secret Service (@SecretService) August 9, 2016
Defending the comments on Fox News, Trump insisted no one at his rally thought he was saying anything other than that the gun rights movement is effective.
But some supporters at his rally, including one seated behind Trump on camera, seemed to react with surprise to his remark, suggesting they realized it could be taken another way.
Clinton’s campaign decried Trump’s “dangerous” language and demanded in a statement that presidential hopefuls “not suggest violence in any way.”
Democratic lawmakers also expressed shock about Trump’s comments.
“In this clip, Trump’s either calling for an armed revolt or the assassination of his opponent. Despicable,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) posted on Twitter along with footage of Trump’s remarks.
Trump’s team fired back to say the Manhattan billionaire simply meant that gun rights advocates were a powerful voting force.
“Second Amendment people have amazing spirit and are tremendously unified, which gives them great political power,” senior Trump communications adviser Jason Miller said.
While Trump himself tweeted that he was simply saying pro-Second Amendment advocates “must organize and get out vote to save our Constitution,” it is unclear what effort he could be referring to, given that he was talking about a scenario in which Clinton had already successfully appointed a Supreme Court justice.