Trump went into the joke having already received hearty boos from the upper-crust audience after, among other things, saying that Clinton was too “corrupt” to work on the Watergate commission. And then:
“We’ve learned so much from WikiLeaks. For example, Hillary believes that it’s vital to deceive the people by having one public policy and a totally different policy in private—That’s okay, I don’t know who they’re angry at, Hillary, you or I. For example, here she is tonight, in public, pretending not to hate Catholics.”
The reaction to that last line from the dais spoke for itself:
Trump has spoken frequently since Wikileaks published a stolen email exchange about what he says is the Clinton campaign’s anti-Catholic bias. At the Alfred E. Smith dinner, though, held in honor of a man whose presidential bids were vocally protested by the Ku Klux Klan, the joke hit a little too close to home.
Alfred E. Smith V told CNN’s "New Day" on Friday that the dinner got “a little uncomfortable,” and that Trump's line, in a room full of predominantly Catholics, "didn’t go over very well.”
“I think what we saw in the last debate a couple nights ago, we saw last night,” Smith added. “You know, Donald had some very solid minutes early on and eventually he crossed the line and took it a little too far. Hillary, you know, on the other hand, was able to laugh at herself and at the same time not underplay any of the serious things that Donald Trump has said or done.”
Trump was referencing a hacked email in which non-profit executive and Democratic donor Sandy Newman proposed a “Catholic Spring”—a reference to the dictator-toppling Arab Spring movement—to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
“There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality,” Newman wrote to Podesta in 2010, before admitting he doesn’t know much about the structure of the Church.
Podesta responded with a few examples of his own involvement in progressive Catholic groups, and tells Newman to be in touch with Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, once the lieutenant governor of Maryland and a Catholic Democrat.
In another stolen email thread published by Wikileaks, Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri responds to an email about Roger Ailes and others’ Catholic faith by saying Catholicism is “the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion” and that “Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals."
The Clinton campaign refused to verify the authenticity of either email exchange to the Washington Post, but Podesta responded to his own apparent conversation by saying “I’m a Catholic, I don’t recognize that email that we saw.”
In response to Palmieri’s alleged comments, the campaign sent the Post a tweet from campaign press secretary Brian Fallon which read “Latest faux controversy out of @Wikileaks hack: Accusing Jen Palmieri, who is Catholic, of being anti-Catholic.”