Trump hits back: Flint pastor was a ‘nervous mess’

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Donald Trump said Thursday the female African-American pastor who interrupted his speech criticizing Hillary Clinton was a “nervous mess” before he took stage in her church on Flint’s west side.

The Rev. Faith Green Timmons chided Trump in the middle of his speech Wednesday at Bethel United Methodist Church after the Republican presidential candidate’s remarks veered from Flint’s water crisis to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s economic policies.

“Mr. Trump, I invited you here to thank us for what we’ve done in Flint, not to give a political speech,” Timmons told Trump on stage in her church’s fellowship hall.

In an interview Thursday morning on “Fox & Friends,” Trump said he suspected “something was up” when he took stage to give remarks before a crowd of about 70 people.

“She was so nervous, she was shaking and then I said, ‘Wow, this is sort of strange,’” Trump said in a telephone interview on the Fox News show. “And then she came up. So she had that in mind, there’s no question about it.”

Clinton responded Thursday afternoon during a press conference in Greensboro, N.C., saying Trump’s characterization of the Flint pastor was “not only insulting, it’s dead wrong.”

“Rev. Faith Green Timmons is not a nervous mess,” Clinton said reading from notes. “She’s a rock for her community in trying times. She deserves better than that and Flint deserves better.”

Timmons said the Trump campaign told her they wanted to learn about the church’s relief efforts in Flint, giving out water and food that help mitigate the long-term harmful effects of lead poisoning.

“They had plans to make it a little more than they originally said and I said, ‘No, you’re going to stick to the original plan,’” Timmons told reporters on Wednesday. “And so when he asked to come in and make a statement, and the statement began to go beyond what he originally said, I asked him to stick to what he said — you came here to welcome our workers and thank them for what they have done. And that’s what he stuck to.”

In the interview on Fox, Trump was asked whether he was bothered by the pastor stopping him from delivering a campaign speech in her church.

“No, it doesn’t bother me,” Trump replied. “I mean, everyone plays their games. It doesn’t bother me.”

Trump told the Fox anchors the audience at the church “was so great,” though he didn’t mention how some people tried to interrupt his remarks after the pastor intervened.

“But (the pastor) was so nervous, she was like a nervous mess,” Trump said. “So I figured something was up, really.”

Flint pastor chastises Trump for politicizing event

Comments trigger rebuke

Timmons did not return messages Thursday seeking comment.

Trump’s comments about the pastor triggered a swift rebuke from U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township.

“When he can’t take criticism that’s valid, he had to turn into a schoolyard bully and use language … that demonstrates his emotional immaturity,” Kildee said Thursday.

The comments were a stark contrast with the Sept. 3 interview that Trump did with Greater Faith Ministries International Bishop Wayne Jackson that aired Wednesday night. The New York businessman praised Jackson's interview on the broadcast and during his Sept. 3 remarks to the Detroit church congregation.

Trump briefly toured the Flint Water Treatment Plant Wednesday afternoon with the city’s utilities director before stopping by Bethel United Methodist.

Before the tour, reporters were told Trump would give remarks at the city’s water plant. As Trump strolled up to a line of a reporters inside the plant, an aide stepped in to confer with him.

Trump then told reporters he would make “press announcements” at the church. “I expect it will be right at the next stop,” he said.

At the church, Timmons introduced Armstrong Williams, owner of Flint’s NBC affiliate, who helped organize Trump’s visit and is the longtime confidant of Dr. Ben Carson, the Republican former presidential hopeful and Trump adviser.

Williams defended Trump’s visit, arguing that “Flint, Michigan can never get enough attention to the crisis that they’re facing.”

Trump’s church remarks

Trump started his remarks at the church by talking about Flint’s long economic decline from the birthplace of General Motors Corp. to a city mired in blight, high crime and “40 percent of the city’s residents are living in poverty.”

The New York businessman pivoted from GM’s decades-long declining presence in Flint to Wednesday’s news that Ford Motor Co. plans to move all small car production to Mexico within two to three years.

From there, Trump launched into a campaign speech railing against the North American Free Trade Agreement — a pact once supported by Clinton and her husband — before Timmons interrupted him.

After Trump left the church to return to Flint’s airport, Timmons told reporters she wanted Trump to see an “educated congregation” in Michigan’s second largest black city.

“Some of the statements that I’ve heard him make about African-Americans, Mexicans and others were degrading,” Timmons told reporters. “I wanted him to see intelligent people, loving people, caring people who have done well with the resources that they had.”

The pastor added: “And I wanted to present the best that I could to someone who was coming in from out of town — it happened to have been Donald Trump.”

Kildee said Timmons was justified in stopping Trump from delivering a campaign speech “in her church, standing at her podium.”

“I think she was entirely appropriate to stop him from using the pain and suffering of the people of Flint as a platform to beat up Hillary Clinton,” Kildee told The Detroit News.

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood