CHICAGO – While reveling in the weekend death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, President Donald Trump used a law enforcement speech Monday to blast Chicago’s police superintendent, the actor Jussie Smollett, and Democrats seeking his impeachment.
Attacking Smollett’s unfounded allegations of an assault he blamed on Trump supporters, the president told the International Association of Police Chiefs that the false accusation was “a hate crime … It’s a real big scam, just like the impeachment of your president is a scam.”
As critics protested his appearance in the Windy City, Trump also went after Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who skipped the president’s speech to the police chiefs’ group over his immigration policy and his past comments about people of color.
Describing Johnson’s comments as “insulting,” Trump blamed Chicago’s high crime rate on Johnson and said he should have attended the chiefs’ meeting “because maybe he could learn something.”
“I want Eddie Johnson to change his values and change them fast,” Trump said, citing the city’s murder rate. At one point, Trump compared violence in Chicago to that of Afghanistan.
Responding at a news conference, Johnson said Trump distorted conditions in a city where the crime rate is falling. “The national narrative that Chicago is a city on fire is simply not true,” he said.
“This administration has hurt many communities in Chicago, but the CPD (Chicago Police Department) is here and will always be here to stand up for them,” Johnson said.
He noted that Chicago police officers spent all day protecting Trump, only to be criticized in public by him.
“What we should continue to focus on is the fact that Chicago has made progress in the last few years,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he did not watch the speech – “we have bigger challenges in this city than this back-and-forth” – and that he is focused on keeping city safe, not on Trump.
The crowd at the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police whooped it up for Trump. Some of the loudest cheers came when Trump discussed the weekend military raid in Syria that led to the suicide of al-Baghdadi, who as head of ISIS encouraged followers to attack U.S. and western targets.
“He was a sick and depraved man, and now he’s dead,” Trump said to the cheers and laughter that accelerated when he added: “He’s dead as a doornail.”
In discussing his law enforcement record, from a new criminal justice reform bill to his proposed wall at the U.S.’s Southern border, Trump’s appearance took on the air of a campaign event.
Beforehand, as Trump approached the convention center complex in southern Chicago, the PA system played the same song as at Trump campaign rallies, including The Rolling Stones’ “Play With Fire,” Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” and Aerosmith’s “Dream On.”
“It’s the president’s playlist,” said Paul Cell, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, in introducing Trump. He told the delegates that the music was selected to “get us excited about his presence here today.”
After the speech to police, Trump headed uptown for a campaign fundraiser that Republicans hope will raise $4 million.
Protesters greeted the president throughout the city, including several hundred who gathered across the Chicago River from Trump Tower, the hotel-condo where he held his fundraiser.
As at a World Series baseball game on Sunday night in Washington, D.C., critics booed Trump while some impeachment supporters chanted “lock him up!”
Local residents took offense at Trump’s criticism of Chicago during his first visit to the city since 2016.
“Trump seems to have quite a lot to say about Chicago, but he never comes here,” said Marj Halperin, a South Loop resident and member of the board of the Indivisible Chicago Alliance. “Instead, he speaks to police and has a private meeting in his hotel. He never talks to the people who are impacted by his policies the most.”
The Chicago Police Department beefed up security by canceling regular days off for some 1,800 officers.
In addressing the police chief’s group, Trump said no one has been a bigger champion of law enforcement than him. He said he has fought back against politicians who like to denigrate police officers, eased federal regulations on local law enforcement, and promoted programs to crack down on drug trafficking and violent crime.
The president said he will fight for gun rights and defended his immigration policies, including attacks on “sanctuary cities” that shield felons. “Get ‘em the hell out of our country,” he said at one point. “As you know, countries love to send their worst to us.”
After the speech, surrounded by officers in uniform, Trump signed an executive order to create a new commission to “address some of the systemic challenges” facing law enforcement. Those include homelessness and mentally ill people who roam the streets, he said.
“You don’t hear it enough,” Trump told the law enforcement officials. “You do an incredible job.”
Before boarding Air Force One for the trip to Chicago, Trump told reporters he is thinking of releasing parts of the video of the raid on al-Baghdadi’s compound.
It was “a great weekend for the country,” Trump said. “We captured a man who should have been captured long ago.”
Trump also said he did not inform members of Congress before the raid because he was worried about leaks. He singled out Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and called him “the biggest leaker in Washington.”
Schiff is also leading the impeachment investigation of Trump over claims he abused his authority by asking a foreign country – Ukraine – to investigate one of his political opponents, Joe Biden.