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Sandoval blames guest, vendor, ‘poor judgement’ for mock assassination of Trump at golf fundraiser

The photo has been widely condemned by politicians on both sides of the aisle — and prompted Sandoval to issue an apology this weekend. But on Monday, it appeared Sandoval was working to distance himself from his initial apology.

Sen. Martin Sandoval
Illinois state Sen. Martin Sandoval has issued an apology for a mock assassination of President Donald Trump that was staged at his fundraiser.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A Chicago state senator on Monday insisted he “had absolutely no knowledge” that a man at his political fundraiser pretended to shoot someone wearing a President Donald Trump mask — until social media photos of the mock assassination caught the attention of the Democrats and Republicans, the White House and the Secret Service.

“As I mentioned in a statement over the weekend, I reject any suggestion of violence towards the president or anyone else,” state Sen. Martin Sandoval said.

The photo has been widely condemned by politicians on both sides of the aisle — and prompted Sandoval to issue an apology this weekend. But on Monday, it appeared Sandoval was working to distance himself from his initial apology — placing the blame on a “guest” and a “vendor” with bad judgment.

The photos even got the attention of Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, who tweeted, “Every Democrat should be asked if they support or disavow this.”

And the U.S. Secret Service on Monday told the Chicago Sun-Times they are “aware” of the incident. Tim Gilroy, assistant to the special agent-in-charge of the Chicago office, said he could not comment on whether an investigation was underway, “but I can tell you that the Secret Service investigates all threats against the president, and we take them all very seriously.”

On Sunday, Sandoval issued an apology that the event occurred at his fundraiser.

“The incident that took place is unacceptable,” Sandoval said in a statement on Sunday. “I don’t condone violence toward the President or anyone else. I apologize that something like this happened at my event.”

The golf outing, called “MAS Havana Nights Golf Clasico,” was a political fundraiser Sandoval hosted on Friday at the Klein Creek Golf Club in west suburban Winfield. The all-day event featured a “relaxed day of golf, fine Cuban food, exotic music cultural dances and much more,” according to the event page on Facebook. Tickets ranged from $250 to $2,500.

It also featured some attendees in costume. The photos at issue were close-ups of a man holding what was later identified as a liquor beverage dispenser but looks like a toy rifle, to the head of another man wearing a Mexican costume and a Trump mask, who is pretending he had been shot.

After a barrage of questions from reporters, Sandoval released a second statement on Monday — expressing “regret” but no apology.

“As a matter of clarification, I had absolutely no knowledge that this regrettable exchange between one of my 1,200 guests and a third-party vendor even took place. Those individuals involved exhibited extremely poor judgement,” the statement said.

Sandoval and his staff did not respond to questions about the identities of the two involved or whether the guest worked for him or was a donor.

“This vendor was hired to provide music and entertainment. This offensive use of a beverage dispenser was in no way part of any scheduled program,” the statement read. “I had no knowledge of it and neither did my staff. I want to again express my deepest regret that this unfortunate incident took place at event [sic] in my name.”

The images — spotted on Facebook — were first reported by WCIA-TV in Champaign.

Asked about the photo at a Chicago news conference on Monday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker called for “political civility.”

“I think it was important for me to speak out about it. It was important for Sen. Sandoval, as he did, to speak out about it,” Pritzker said. “It’s inappropriate to point even a fake gun at any individual, especially at this moment. And I know that he feels the same as I do and that we need to call it out.”

But Republicans said Sandoval’s statements fall short.

“The apology from Sen. Sandoval for the detestable pictures from his event depicting an assassination of President Trump is too little, too late,” Illinois GOP Co-Chairman Tim Schneider said in a written statement. “Dangerous imagery like this will be condemned and seen as inappropriate by people of sound mind; however, a mentally unstable individual who wants to harm President Trump might find them as an inspiration.”

His statement continued: “It’s inexcusable for an elected official to allow the promotion of violence in any way. If the individual pictured is a staffer or volunteer, they should be terminated immediately.”

State Sen. Martin Sandoval’s Cicero office, 5807 W 35th St.
State Sen. Martin Sandoval’s Cicero office, 5807 W 35th St.
Stefano Esposito/Chicago Sun-Times

Pritzker also tied the mock assassination to the violence plaguing the nation and the problems with political discourse.

“As our nation grapples with the epidemic of gun violence, purposely pointing a fake gun at anyone is insensitive and wrong,” Pritzker told WCIA Saturday night. “I condemn actions like the ones displayed in the pictures because they lack the civility our politics demands.”

A Sandoval representative in the state senator’s Cicero office declined to comment and said Sandoval was in a meeting; they were uncertain when he’d return.

Sandoval was elected in 2013 and also chairs the Senate’s Transportation Committee.