White House defends Trump's conspiracy theory tweet on Buffalo protester

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a roundtable discussion with law enforcement in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Wednesday defended President Donald Trump’s promotion of an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory about a 75-year-old protester injured by police in Buffalo, saying it was Trump’s “prerogative” to raise questions about the incident.

The protester, Martin Gugino, was shoved by police and critically injured when he approached them during a march against racism and police brutality in an incident that was captured on video and led to criminal charges against the officers involved. It was one of many protests after George Floyd, a black man, died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Trump, offering no evidence, tweeted on Tuesday that Gugino’s fall could be a “set up” with ties to the anti-fascist movement antifa. Trump and other Republicans have sought to blame violence that has flared at some protests on antifa despite little evidence.

Regarding Gugino, the Republican president cited a report by pro-Trump channel One America News Network, which also offered no evidence. The OANN piece was narrated by a Russian native who has worked for the Kremlin-controlled Sputnik news outlet, according to the Daily Beast and the New York Times.

“The president was just raising some questions, some legitimate ones, about that particular interaction. And it’s his prerogative to do so,” White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News on Wednesday.

Democrats and other critics have blasted Trump’s tweet and urged the president to apologize, while numerous Republicans in Congress and Trump’s chief of Staff Mark Meadows declined to comment, according to media reports.

A lawyer for Gugino called Trump’s statement “dark, dangerous, and untrue,” according to media reports. Gugino told USA TODAY he had “no comment other than Black Lives Matter” and that he has been released from intensive care and “should recover eventually.”

Buffalo Police Officers Aaron Torgalski, 39, and Robert McCabe, 32, face felony assault charges over the incident.

Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham