President Donald Trump slammed billionaire Mike Bloomberg as a "total racist" Tuesday for comments he made defending the New York City Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy — a policy Trump has backed as president.
Bloomberg shot back that Trump is the one who has divided the country "with racist appeals and hateful rhetoric" and vowed that "I will do everything I can to defeat you between now and November."
The accusations flew after the president tweeted an audio clip of Bloomberg defending stop and frisk that had been unearthed by podcaster and Bernie Sanders supporter Benjamin Dixon, who has been seeking information about Bloomberg on social media.
The remarks were reportedly delivered in 2015 at the Aspen Institute in Colorado. In the recording, which has not yet been verified by NBC News, Bloomberg said the majority of murderers and murder victims “fit one M.O. You could just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, 15 to 25 [years old].”
Bloomberg noted that people complained that "we put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why do you do it? Because that’s where all the crime is.”
“And the way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them," he's heard saying.
In his tweet, Trump wrote: "WOW, BLOOMBERG IS A TOTAL RACIST!"
The president's tweet was later deleted, and the White House has not yet commented to NBC News on why. But the Trump campaign and his oldest son seized on Bloomberg's comments.
The Trump campaign's communication director, Tim Murtaugh, called them "clearly racist" and "unacceptable." At a campaign stop at a polling location in Derry, N.H., the president's son Donald Trump Jr. told NBC News that the comments were “shocking by any reasonable standard of today.”
“When you say, 'I’m going to take cops and put them in exclusively minority neighborhoods because that is where all the crime happens and those are the ones that are doing it, and we are going to throw them up against a wall,' if Donald Trump said that today in that way, you guys would react very differently than the reaction I’ve seen today from the media," Trump Jr. said.
The president's son also tweeted out another clip of Bloomberg defending stop and frisk from 2013, when he said in widely reported remarks that "I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It's exactly the reverse of what they're saying."
At the time, the New York City Police Department was being sued for disproportionately using the tactic against blacks and Latinos. Bloomberg's office defended the stop-and-frisk numbers, noting that 87 percent of people stopped under the policy in 2012 were black or Latino, but more than 90 percent of murder suspects were identified by witnesses or victims as black or Latino.
A Manhattan federal court judge ruled later that year that police had been making "unconstitutional stops and conducting unconstitutional frisks" based on race and appointed a federal monitor to oversee reforms.
Bloomberg blasted the judge for the ruling and appealed her decision, but the appeal was dropped by his successor, Bill de Blasio. Despite Bloomberg's warnings to the contrary, crime continued to decline after the stops were curtailed.
Bloomberg continued to defend the practice long after he left office, only apologizing and saying "I was wrong" in November, right before he jumped into the presidential race.
Trump suggested to reporters on Tuesday that the apology was his real issue with Bloomberg's stance.
"I think when a man is with stop-and-frisk his whole life, and then he decides to go Democrat and he goes to a church and he's practically crying, it looked like hell, practically crying, saying what a horrible thing he did," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. "I think that’s so disingenuous. He looked pathetic. Our country doesn't need that kind of leadership."
In his statement Tuesday, Bloomberg said, "I inherited the police practice of stop-and-frisk, and as part of our effort to stop gun violence it was overused."
"By the time I left office, I cut it back by 95 percent, but I should've done it faster and sooner," he continued, omitting any mention of the judge's decision and the court fight. "I regret that and I have apologized — and I have taken responsibility for taking too long to understand the impact it had on black and Latino communities."
Bloomberg added that “this issue and my comments about it do not reflect my commitment to criminal justice reform and racial equity," and said "Trump’s deleted tweet is the latest example of his endless efforts to divide Americans."
"The President’s attack on me clearly reflects his fear over the growing strength of my campaign. Make no mistake Mr. President: I am not afraid of you and I will not let you bully me or anyone else in America," Bloomberg said.
His campaign also issued a statement from a group of African American faith leaders who said, "None of us believe that Mike Bloomberg is a racist. Actions speak louder than words, and Mike has a long record of fighting for equality, civil rights, and criminal justice reform.”
Trump campaign spokesman Murtaugh said Bloomberg's "clearly racist comments" show that "his apology for ‘stop and frisk’ was fake and was only designed to win him votes."
Highlighting the comments could help Trump’s campaign in several ways. It sows further division inside the Democratic Party, potentially dragging out the nomination process, and aids Trump’s efforts to pick up black votes.
Trump campaign advisers have said that they believe winning even just a few thousand more black votes, or discouraging black voters from turning out for the Democratic nominee, could make all the difference in key swing states like Michigan.
Another billionaire and Democratic presidential candidate, Tom Steyer, also sounded off on the clip, calling it "extremely disturbing."
"The racist stereotypes he uses have no place today, and anyone running for the presidential nomination should disavow them," Steyer said. "We have a racist president in Donald Trump, and we must rise above that to unite our country."
Trump's support for stop and frisk
One person who's a consistent supporter of stop and frisk, however, is Trump.
The president hailed the policy while Bloomberg was in office, and he has continued to support it from the White House. In a 2018 speech to the International Association of Police Chiefs, Trump suggested the practice could solve Chicago's crime problem.
"I've told them to work with local authorities to try to change the terrible deal the city of Chicago entered into with ACLU, which ties law enforcement's hands, and to strongly consider stop and frisk," Trump said. "It works, and it was meant for problems like Chicago. It was meant for it, stop and frisk."
In the Oval Office on Friday, Trump was asked if he's still pro-stop-and-frisk.
“I support anything we can do to get down crime on and to get rid of drugs,” he said.