Lawmakers outraged after Trump compares impeachment inquiry to 'a lynching'

"All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here — a lynching," Trump tweeted. "But we will WIN!"

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By Allan Smith

President Donald Trump has called the House impeachment inquiry a "coup," a "witch hunt" and a "fraud," but he introduced a new phrase to describe the process on Tuesday: "a lynching."

"So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights," Trump tweeted. "All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here — a lynching. But we will WIN!"

The president's use of "lynching," which elicits a time when black Americans were murdered by extrajudicial white mobs, was the subject of immediate blowback.

"You think this impeachment is a LYNCHING?" Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., tweeted. "What the hell is wrong with you? Do you know how many people who look like me have been lynched, since the inception of this country, by people who look like you. Delete this tweet."

"We can all disagree on the process, and argue merits," Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., tweeted. "But never should we use terms like 'lynching' here. The painful scourge in our history has no comparison to politics, and @realDonaldTrump should retract this immediately. May God help us to return to a better way."

According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, more than 4,700 lynchings took place in the U.S. from 1882 to 1968. Of those who were lynched, more than 3,400 were black, though not all lynchings that took place were recorded, the NAACP noted. Many of the whites who were lynched, the organization adds, were killed for helping black Americans or being against lynching.

Lawmakers continued to blast Trump's remarks through the morning.

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. and the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, tweeted that Trump was "comparing a constitutional process to the PREVALENT and SYSTEMATIC brutal torture of people in THIS COUNTRY that looked like me?"

"Using this term draws up some of America’s darkest history — Trump is yet again a disgrace and massively offensive," wrote Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., in a Twitter post. "Nobody is above the law, including him. He has abused his power — and he’s been caught. Do not get caught up in his latest distraction tactic."

"It’s beyond shameful to use the word 'lynching' to describe being held accountable for your actions," former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, a Democratic presidential candidate, tweeted. Many of the 2020 Democratic candidates, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, echoed that sentiment Tuesday.

Speaking on CNN, Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said the president's early morning tweet was "another indication" of how "loose" he is "with his words." Clyburn, a top-ranking Democrat, said the president's comparison of impeachment to lynching offended his sense of history.

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"Very much so," Clyburn said. "I am not just a politician. I'm a Southern politician. I'm a product of the South. I know the history of that word. That is a word that we ought to be very, very careful about using."

When asked about the tweet again later in the morning, Clyburn told reporters, "I resent it tremendously. I think that what we see here, once again, is this president attempting to change the narrative using what I consider to be real, caustic terms, in order to change the conversation. To compare the constitutional process to something like lynching is far beneath the office of the president of the United States."

Republican response

The condemnation was not unanimous. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., told reporters he understood Trump's "absolute rejection" of the impeachment process, but the lone black Republican senator — one of just three black senators total — said he "wouldn't use the word lynching" to describe it."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters that the impeachment inquiry "is a lynching in every sense," calling it "un-American" — a remarks that also received blowback.

A close ally of the president, Graham said he could not see a lot of black Americans being offended by the remark, adding that mob justice was what is taking place in the House.

When asked about the president's tweet, White House principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told Fox News that Trump "wasn’t trying to compare himself to the horrific history in this country at all.” Gidley added that the president has used “many words” and “all kinds of language” to talk about how he has been attacked. Pressed on the condemnations over the tweet, Gidley said “let’s talk about what the president has actually done for the African American community.”

Trump often touts low unemployment rates and his signing of sweeping federal criminal justice system changes into law as boons to minority communities.

A senior Trump campaign official said of the controversy over the president's tweet: "Don’t remember any Democrats complaining in 1998 when Jerry Nadler called the Clinton impeachment proceedings a 'lynch mob.'"

Nadler, D-N.Y., now the House Judiciary Committee chairman, said in 1998 that "Republicans so far have been running a lynch mob" with regard to the impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton, according to an Associated Press report at the time.

The campaign also flagged remarks former Vice President Joe Biden, then a senator from Delaware, made to CNN's Wolf Blitzer in 1998, in which he said of the impeachment process that "history is going to question with whether or not this was just a partisan lynching or whether or not it was something that in fact met the standard, the very high bar that was set by the founders as to what constituted an impeachable offense."

Biden tweeted Tuesday, "Impeachment is not 'lynching,' it is part of our Constitution."

"Our country has a dark, shameful history with lynching, and to even think about making this comparison is abhorrent," Biden continued. "It's despicable."

Biden apologized for the comment late Tuesday.

"This wasn’t the right word to use and I’m sorry about that," Biden tweeted. "Trump on the other hand chose his words deliberately today in his use of the word lynching and continues to stoke racial divides in this country daily."

Taylor deposition

Trump's Tuesday morning tweet came just before acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor began closed-door testimony to the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry. Taylor, a key figure in the administration's Ukraine dealings, which are at the center of the House inquiry, texted U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland last month that it was "crazy" to hold up the country's military aid until they investigated political opponents of the president.

Sondland responded hours later that the president was clear about there being no quid pro quo, a message he later told the House was passed along to him by the president after Sondland received Taylor's message.

Speaking with reporters in a Cabinet meeting on Monday, Trump lamented the House was interviewing ambassadors he "never heard of."

The House launched its impeachment inquiry after a whistleblower filed a complaint about Trump's conduct toward Ukraine. The whistleblower, whose identity is not yet known, said in the complaint that Trump sought electoral assistance from Ukraine. The complaint was based on information passed along to the whistleblower by administration officials who were concerned, the whistleblower wrote.

Although Trump has claimed the whistleblower's account is "false," a detailed description of Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, which was released by the White House, aligns with the complaint. In that call, Trump asked Zelenskiy to probe a debunked conspiracy theory about Democrats and the 2016 presidential election and also investigate the Biden family, particularly former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter, who had business dealings in Ukraine.

Trump's remark on Tuesday was the first time he had used the word "lynching" in a tweet, although in 2015 he promoted a comment from a Twitter user who thanked conservative personality Mark Levin for "maintaining" his "integrity during this disgusting lynching of" Trump, who was then a Republican presidential candidate.

"Thanks Mark!" Trump added.

The president is set to appear Friday at a historically black college in South Carolina for a 2020 candidate forum, an event that will also be attended by a half dozen Democratic presidential contenders.

Julie Tsirkin and Monica Alba contributed.