Donald Trump has triggered fury in the US after comparing the ongoing impeachment inquiry to a lynching, drawing almost immediate rebukes from prominent black politicians – and a call from at least one Republican to retract the comment.
The US President’s anger at the Democrats’ investigation has become increasingly obvious in recent weeks as he has attacked political opponents and decried the process as “illegitimate,” “bullshit” and a “coup.”
But his use of the word “lynching”, a term associated with mob killings of African-Americans, has proved particularly inflammatory and drew a swift backlash.
Democratic Representative Bobby Rush blasted Mr Trump in his own tweet.
“You think this impeachment is a LYNCHING? What the hell is wrong with you?” the black politician wrote.
“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?”
Mr Trump’s “lynching” tweet came just before closed-door testimony on Tuesday (Washington time) by William Taylor, a diplomat who is expected to be an important witness in the inquiry led by Democrats in the US House of Representatives.
Politicians planned to ask Mr Taylor, who is the acting ambassador at the US embassy in Ukraine, about Mr Trump’s withholding of security assistance for the government in Kiev – which Mr Taylor called “crazy”.
“All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.
His comment brought almost immediate condemnation.
Minutes after the tweet was posted, House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina was on CNN calling it offensive.
He noted that no other president who had faced an impeachment inquiry or the inevitability of one – citing Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon – had resorted to such racially charged language to try to cast himself as a victim.
George Conway, the husband of senior White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway and a perennial critic of the President, tagged Mr Trump in a tweet that said: “You truly are deranged.”
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson was one of the first notable Republicans to call out Mr Trump, declaring on Twitter: “It is not a lynching.
“Let’s not start dropping words that are important with real historic meaning where we water them down to nothing,” he wrote.
Karen Baynes-Dunning, the interim president of the Southern Poverty Law Centre, which advocates for equal opportunity and fights bigotry, said Mr Trump had shown complete disrespect.
“For Trump to characterise a legal impeachment inquiry as a lynching shows a complete disrespect for the thousands of black people lynched – murdered – throughout our nation’s history in acts of racism and hatred,” she said.
But some Republicans defended Mr Trump’s use of the word, instead blaming journalists or Democrats conducting the impeachment investigation.
“It shows a lot of things about our national media. When it’s about Trump, who cares about the process, as long as you get him. So, yeah, this is a lynching in every sense. This is un-American,” Republican senator Lindsey Graham said.
Senator Tim Scott, one of two black Republicans in congress, said, “I get his absolute rejection of the process” but said he would not use the word lynching.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Mr Trump was expressing his feelings.
“The President was clearly articulating the way he feels and the way you guys have treated him from day one,” he said at the White House.
Democratic African-American politicians said they were not surprised, given Mr Trump’s record of inflammatory statements.
“For him to say something like that was disgusting, reflects his insensitivity toward the historical tragedies of this country and I’m just totally, I would not say surprised or shocked, but just very, very disappointed,” Representative Barbara Lee said.
Representative Hakeem Jeffries said he hoped Mr Trump apologised.
“The President should not compare a constitutionally mandated impeachment inquiry to such a dangerous and dark chapter of American history,” he said.
“It’s irresponsible for him to do so and I hope that he will apologise.”