WASHINGTON — President Trump widened his war on critics of color on Monday morning, denouncing the Rev. Al Sharpton as “a con man” who “Hates Whites & Cops!” after a weekend spent assailing a leading African-American congressman from Baltimore.
Mr. Trump seemed to be responding to a Twitter post from Mr. Sharpton showing himself at an airport “headed to Baltimore,” presumably a reference to the president’s attacks on Representative Elijah E. Cummings, the Democrat who represents much of Maryland’s largest city.
“I have known Al for 25 years,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter as he reposted Mr. Sharpton’s tweet. “Went to fights with him & Don King, always got along well. He ‘loved Trump!’ He would ask me for favors often. Al is a con man, a troublemaker, always looking for a score. Just doing his thing. Must have intimidated Comcast/NBC. Hates Whites & Cops!”
Mr. Sharpton, a longtime civil rights leader and MSNBC host, has indeed known Mr. Trump from their days in New York together and has grown increasingly critical of the president over the years. He has been particularly outspoken in recent weeks as Mr. Trump has assailed four first-term Democratic congresswomen of color, demanding they “go back” to their home countries even though all of them are American citizens — three of them were born in the United States and the fourth was naturalized as a teenager.
“I’ve never heard him say anything racial,” Mr. Sharpton recently told The New York Times of his time with Mr. Trump in New York. But, he added, “I always sensed he was not comfortable being around us. He reminded me what he was — a Queens guy. He saw us as entertainers or athletes that he had to do business with.”
Mr. Sharpton has his own complicated history when it comes to race. He was an outspoken activist through a string of racially charged episodes in New York. He drew broad criticism as one of the most vocal supporters of Tawana Brawley, an African-American teenager whose claims of abuse and rape by a gang of white men in 1987 were eventually exposed as a hoax.
He has reinvented himself over the years as a national voice on civil rights and even ran for president in 2004. His National Action Network has become a force on the political left.
Mr. Trump assailed Mr. Cummings over the weekend, saying the congressman should spend less time criticizing the president and more time fixing his “disgusting, rat and rodent infested” district where “no human being would want to live.”
Mr. Sharpton announced that he would appear in Baltimore on Monday with Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chairman and Maryland lieutenant governor who himself is black, to decry the president’s remarks.
In a phone interview with MSNBC after Mr. Trump’s attack on him on Monday morning, Mr. Sharpton attributed it to the re-election politics of 2020. “He’s going to attack the most visible black that comes across his desk that he thinks can set a tone,” Mr. Sharpton said. “We need to stand up and deal with the fact that this president’s policies hurt people all over this country.”