WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday morning promoted a manipulated image of Sen. Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wearing a turban and a headscarf in front of an Iranian flag, claiming it showed “the corrupted Dems trying their best to come to the Ayatollah’s rescue #NancyPelosiFakeNews.”
The retweeted image was the most extreme version of a sentiment that Trump spent the morning advancing by retweeting criticism of Pelosi, and suggesting she was a supporter of the Iranian government.
Pelosi has criticized the Trump administration for the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most important general, on Jan. 3, saying it risked a “dangerous escalation of violence” and was based on questionable intelligence.
The president’s barrage of Twitter posts targeting her appeared to be an attempt to undercut her credibility the same week she is expected to send two articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate. The tweet was also a reminder of the way Trump has harnessed fears of Muslims and terrorism for his own political purposes in the past.
Responding on Twitter, Schumer asked, “President Trump: How low can you go?”
Dana Shell Smith, a former U.S. ambassador to Qatar, wrote on Twitter that Trump was engaging in “hate speech against an entire religion.”
Trump’s retweet was not the first time Republicans have tried to tie Democrats to the Iranian government through the use of doctored images.
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., posted a photograph last week of former President Barack Obama shaking hands with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran. That image, however, was revealed to be doctored years ago. Obama never met Rouhani in person.
During his presidency, Trump has also used Twitter to share videos posted by a fringe British ultranationalist group purportedly showing Muslims committing acts of violence.
“This tweet contrasts so starkly with the seriousness of the actual situation with Iran,” said Ben Rhodes, a former top national security aide to Obama. “We are in the midst of a roiling crisis with Iran that is largely of Trump’s own making, and yet he continues to view that largely through the prism of pretty ugly domestic politics.”
Rhodes said the tweet underscored how Trump’s outlook had not changed since he first ran for office. “Trump views Iran policy as if it’s 2015 and he’s campaigning for president, not as if it’s 2020 and he is facing a crisis with huge real world dimensions for nuclear weapons, war and peace, and the Iranian people,” Rhodes said.
White House officials have often tried to sidestep answering for content that Trump shares online, but on Monday the press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, defended his tweet. In an interview with Fox News, Grisham said the president was “making clear” that Democrats were “parroting Iranian talking points, almost taking the side of terrorists.”
She added that Trump was “making the point that the Democrats seem to hate him so much they’re willing to be on the side of countries and leadership of countries who want to kill Americans.”
Trump and the Republican National Committee specifically targeted Pelosi for a statement she made on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, when asked whether she supported anti-government demonstrations there that have emerged after Iran shot down a Ukrainian airliner shortly after it took off from Tehran.
Pelosi said there were “different reasons why people are in the street,” noting that the current protesters were reacting to Iran’s military admitting it accidentally shot down the Ukrainian airliner. She did not directly answer a question about whether it would be a “good thing if they brought the regime down.”
During Pelosi’s interview with George Stephanopoulos, she also said the Trump administration had not been “straight with the Congress of the United States” in its explanations for why it decided to target Soleimani when it did.
Trump, departing Monday afternoon for New Orleans, where he was scheduled to attend the college football playoff national championship, defended his decision-making process.
“It’s been totally consistent,” he said of the intelligence used to justify the strike. “We killed Soleimani, the No. 1 terrorist in the world by every account. Bad person, killed a lot of Americans, killed a lot of people. We killed him.”
He added: “When the Democrats try and defend him, it’s a disgrace to our country. They can’t do that. And let me tell you, it’s not working politically very well for them.”
Trump spent the weekend expressing support online for the people of Iran calling for political and economic change, who participated in the largest popular protests in the country in more than 10 years.
On Monday morning, Trump lauded the protesters for supporting the United States. “Wow! The wonderful Iranian protesters refused to step on, or in any way denigrate, our Great American Flag,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “It was put on the street in order for them to trample it, and they walked around it instead. Big progress!”
But his tweets since the strike that killed Soleimani have renewed cries for Twitter to regulate his use of the site. Trump used Twitter to threaten an attack on Iranian cultural sites, one that he later, begrudgingly, walked back.
A spokesman for Pelosi did not respond to a request for comment about Trump’s post.