Donald Trump is not giving up. Instead of apologizing for what was his obvious mocking of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski during a speech earlier this week, the real estate mogul is now insisting he has no idea what the journalist looks like. “I have no idea who this reporter, Serge Kovalski is, what he looks like or his level of intelligence,” Trump said in a statement. “I don’t know if he is J.J. Watt or Muhammad Ali in his prime — or somebody of less athletic or physical ability.” The Republican presidential hopeful apparently knows so little about the reporter who has a congenital condition called arthrogryposis that limits joint movement that he spelled his last name wrong.
Trump seemed to clearly mock Kovaleski’s condition during a speech in South Carolina on Tuesday. “Now, the poor guy — you’ve got to see this guy, ‘Ah, I don’t know what I said! I don’t remember!’” Trump said as he flailed his arms in front of his body and distorted his speech. In his statement, Trump said he was simply making fun of the way the reporter was trying to “pull away from” something he had written more than a decade ago.
Kovaleski insists it is ridiculous for Trump to claim he doesn’t know what he looks like when the two met repeatedly. The reporter covered Trump extensively during the 1980s when he worked for the New York Daily News. “Donald and I were on a first-name basis for years,” Kovaleski told the Times. “I’ve interviewed him in his office.”
Trump, however, said Kovaleski must have a huge ego if he believes a man as important as him would remember a lowly journalist. “Serge Kovaleski must think a lot of himself if he thinks I remember him from decades ago—if I ever met him at all, which I doubt I did,” Trump said. “He should stop using his disability to grandstand and get back to reporting for a paper that is rapidly going down the tubes.”
Trump never mentioned Kovaleski by name in South Carolina as he defended previous claims that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The assertions have been widely denied. Trump has pointed to an article by Kovaleski, who was working for the Washington Post back then, about authorities in New Jersey detaining a number of people for allegedly celebrating. In an interview with CNN this week, Kovaleski said that he did not remember “anyone saying there were thousands, or even hundreds, of people celebrating.”
Journalists and activists for people with disabilities quickly criticized Trump for his comments. “We think it’s outrageous that he would ridicule the appearance of one of our reporters,” a Times spokesman told Politico. Jay Ruderman of the Ruderman Family Foundation called on Trump to apologize. “It is unacceptable for a child to mock another child’s disability on the playground, never mind a presidential candidate mocking someone’s disability as part of a national political discourse,” he said.