Trump signs 9/11 compensation bill, declines to claim credit as a 'first responder'

Dylan Stableford
Senior Editor

President Trump on Monday signed a bill permanently reauthorizing the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which was passed by Congress last week after intensive lobbying by activists led by Jon Stewart.

Addressing first responders at a signing ceremony in the Rose Garden, Trump recalled being in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, when terror attacks destroyed the Twin Towers.

“I was down there also, but I’m not considering myself a first responder,” Trump said. “But I was down there. I spent a lot of time down there with you.”

In the past he has made vague claims about helping out at the site.

According to the White House, eight members of Congress attended the signing ceremony, all of them Republican. Noticeably absent were New York Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. Schumer’s office said the Senate minority leader received an invitation on Saturday to attend Monday’s event but had a scheduling conflict.

A White House official said every member of Congress, as well as Stewart, was invited.

Stewart was not present at the signing ceremony.

President Trump holds up the signed bill permanently reauthorizing the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

It’s not the first time Trump has suggested he was involved in the cleanup efforts at Ground Zero. At a rally in Buffalo, N.Y., during the 2016 presidential campaign, the real estate mogul made a similarly vague claim while praising the efforts of first responders.

“Everyone who helped clear the rubble — and I was there, and I watched, and I helped a little bit — but I want to tell you: Those people were amazing,” Trump said. “Clearing the rubble. Trying to find additional lives. You didn’t know what was going to come down on all of us — and they handled it.”

There’s no evidence Trump helped, even “a little bit,” clearing rubble at Ground Zero. But he was at or near the site in the days following the attacks.

New York Newsday spotted him there on Sept. 13, 2001:

“The workers are so worn out that they barely glance at the sight of Donald Trump, every hair in place and impeccably dressed in a black suit, pressed white shirt and red tie, walking into the plaza with his cellular phone to his ear. ‘No, no. The building’s gone,’ he says into the phone.”

The same day, standing three blocks from Ground Zero, Trump gave an interview to a German television reporter who asked him if he would be involved in the reconstruction efforts.

“Well, I have a lot of men down here right now,” he replied. “We have over 100, and we have about 125 coming. So we’ll have a couple of hundred people down here.”

Earlier in the 2016 campaign, Trump stirred controversy by claiming he personally saw “thousands and thousands of people” in a part of New Jersey with many Arab residents cheering the destruction of the World Trade Center.

“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down,” he said at a rally in Birmingham, Ala., in November 2015. “And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”

In a subsequent interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump doubled down on the claim.

“They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down,” Trump said. “I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it. … There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. Not good.”

While there were televised scenes of people in parts of the Middle East cheering the attacks, there is no evidence that similar celebrations took place in New Jersey. But Trump didn’t budge.

“It did happen. I saw it,” he insisted. “It was on television.”

And at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, the following day, Trump made another 9/11 claim: that he witnessed people jumping out of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan — from his luxury apartment in midtown, which is located more than 4 miles away from Ground Zero.

“Many people jumped and I witnessed it, I watched that. I have a view — a view in my apartment that was specifically aimed at the World Trade Center,” Trump said. “And I watched those people jump and I watched the second plane hit. ... I saw the second plane hit the building and I said, ‘Wow, that’s unbelievable.’”

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