In Private Meeting, Trump Calls El Paso Mayor a “RINO”

August 14, 2019
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U.S. President Donald Trump greets El Paso Mayor Dee Margo as he disembarks from Air Force One upon arrival at El Paso International Airport. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

The mayor of the grieving city of El Paso told President Donald Trump in a private meeting that he’s presenting “misinformation” about crime in his city, and pushed back when the president used a derogatory term to suggest he wasn’t a real Republican.

“He said, ‘You’re a RINO [Republican in name only],’ and I said, ‘No, sir. I am not a RINO,’” Mayor Dee Margo told FRONTLINE.  “I said … ‘I simply corrected the misinformation you were given by [the Texas] attorney general, and that’s all I did.’”

The mayor said he was trying to debunk Trump’s false claim that El Paso had one of the highest violent crime rates in the U.S. until a barrier fence — the bulk of which was completed in 2009 — was built there. He recounted the conversation in an interview with correspondent Martin Smith and producer Marcela Gaviria for an upcoming FRONTLINE documentary. Trump traveled to El Paso last week in the aftermath of a shooting that left 22 people dead and dozens more wounded. Police say that the suspect deliberately targeted Hispanics.

The president spoke with Margo as he made his way to the airport. In the clip below, the mayor explains how the conversation went:

This was Margo’s first television interview about the impromptu meeting, but he and Trump have previously traded jabs over immigration and border security.

“I said, ‘If you want to deal with immigration, the first thing you do is you have Homeland Security define what is a secure border and what they need in the way of resources to handle that,’” Margo told FRONTLINE, adding that his attempt to set the record straight on El Paso’s crime rate “seemed to resonate” with the president.

The dispute between Margo and Trump goes back to February’s State of the Union address. In it, the president said that El Paso “used to have extremely high rates of violent crime,” until a section of the barrier wall was completed a decade ago.

Shortly after those comments Margo began publicly clarifying that violent crime in the city had been largely unaffected by what he calls “a fence.”

“We are one of the safest cities in the country, but we have been before the fence went up,” Margo said in the interview with FRONTLINE. “It had a dramatic impact on petty crimes and automobile thefts … So it has benefited, but it had no direct impact on our overall crime rate.”

In the FRONTLINE interview, Smith reminded Margo that the president had said he was “full of crap” about the impact of the barrier. The mayor replied, “I would hope he wouldn’t say that now, given our conversation.”

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