WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said an investigation was under way into alleged “thugs” who boarded a plane seeking to cause damage last week amid his Republican Party convention, but offered no evidence and gave few details about an incident that appeared to echo discredited viral social media posts.
Trump made the charge in a Fox News interview broadcast late on Monday. Asked for details, Trump said: “I’ll tell you sometime, but it’s under investigation right now.” Pressed on whether it was a conspiracy theory, he told Fox “No.”
On Tuesday, Trump told reporters that it was something told to him by an individual on the flight. Trump did not identify the person, and said it was up to them to say more.
“This was a firsthand account of a plane going from Washington to wherever,” he said at Joint Base Andrews as he departed for a trip to Kenosha, Wisconsin. People boarded “that obviously were looking for trouble. And the person felt very uncomfortable.”
Asked to comment, White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews did not directly address Trump’s specific assertions, but said that he was referring to an investigation into possible financial backers of “organized riots.”
The president, seeking re-election on a promise to restore “law and order,” told Fox News the plane over the weekend was “completely loaded with thugs wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms with gear and this and that” adding: “Here were like seven people on the plane like this person and then a lot of people were on the plane to do big damage.”
Trump, who trails Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in national opinion polls, first told Fox News the flight involved someone “coming to the Republican National Convention,” and later told reporters the plane departed from Washington. The Republicans last week held convention events in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Washington.
He also did not specify the date, detail what gear the individuals were carrying or say whether anyone was arrested or charged.
Trump’s assertion was similar to rumors posted on Facebook that NBC reported nbcnews.to/2YQUPHN began circulating in June about men dressed in black disembarking on planes in Idaho. Local officials at the time said the rumors were untrue.
In a separate Fox News interview on Monday, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said the U.S. Justice Department was investigating individuals who were paying others to travel around the country to take part in protests.
Wolf suggested the probe extended to leaders of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and antifa, a largely unstructured, far-left movement whose followers broadly aim to confront those they view as authoritarian or racist.
The Justice Department did not specifically say BLM and antifa leaders were being probed, but spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said it was investigating violence, including against law enforcement and government property. She said it was not looking into any First Amendment activity, a reference to free speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
A federal law enforcement official said the FBI was pursuing criminal investigations around the protests but none looking at any specific organization’s role in allegedly stoking violence. The source added that they had not heard of any probe into the matter Trump described.
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