NEW YORK — Donald Trump says he doesn’t remember the reporter whose disability he is accused of mocking, but the reporter says that they had been “on a first-name basis for years.”
Trump has come under fire for what many believe was his public lampooning of the physical appearance of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski.
Kovaleski has a chronic condition called arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his arms.
During a speech Tuesday night, Trump moved wildly while referencing Kovaleski.
On Thursday, Trump denied that he was making fun of Kovaleski’s disability, and said he didn’t know him.
“Somebody at the financially failing and totally biased New York Times said that, over the years, I have met Mr. Kovaleski,” Trump said in a statement. “Despite having one of the all-time great memories, I certainly do not remember him.”
The Republican presidential candidate added that Kovaleski “should stop using his disability to grandstand and get back to reporting for a newspaper that is rapidly going down the tubes.”
In a story in the New York Times on Thursday, Kovaleski painted a different picture.
“Donald and I were on a first-name basis for years,” Kovaleski said. “I’ve interviewed him in his office. I’ve talked to him at press conferences. All in all, I would say around a dozen times, I’ve interacted with him as a reporter while I was at The Daily News.”
Kovaleski also tweeted, “I dispute Trump’s claim in today’s NYT.”
Trump said Friday evening that he has met “thousands of reporters” in his career.
“His meeting with me may have been the highlight of his career, it certainly wasn’t the highlight of mine. While I may have met him, I don’t remember it — he made no impression on me,” Trump said.
A former reporter remembers a news conference in 1989 in which Trump and Kovaleski greeted each other. The news conference came just before Trump bought Eastern Airlines and launched the Trump Shuttle.
“It was clear they knew each other. Everything was on a first name basis,” Suzy Parker told CNNMoney on Friday. “It was so chummy I thought they may even have known each other socially.”
She said Kovaleski also introduced her to Ivana Trump, who was married to Donald Trump at the time.
She said the two men shook hands. “It was hello, how you doing, how are things. It was a friendly greeting.”
Parker said that at the time she was a reporter for the Daily Labor Report, which put out specialized newsletters.
The New York Daily News on Friday showed a page from the newspaper in 1989 that included a Kovaleski bylined story about the inauguration of the Trump Shuttle. It said that Kovaleski spent the day with Trump inaugurating the flight.
Trump’s initial comments on Tuesday were prompted by challenges to his repeated claim that he saw “thousands” of Muslims celebrating in Jersey City, N.J., after the September 11 terror attacks.
Trump has cited a story Kovaleski wrote in 2001 when he worked for the Washington Post that said authorities had detained “a number of people” in Jersey City who had allegedly been seen celebrating.
Kovaleski’s story referred to FBI probes of the alleged celebrations, but quoted no witnesses and contained no specific evidence that celebrations occurred.
He was interviewed this week by the Washington Post about his 2001 reporting. “I certainly do not remember anyone saying that thousands or even hundreds of people were celebrating. That was not the case, as best as I can remember,” Kovaleski told CNNMoney.