DES MOINES — Terrorist sympathizers are in all 50 U.S. states, including Iowa, and Donald Trump as president is best equipped to make the country safer from those insurgents, Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday.
Branstad made the assertion about terrorist sympathizers — initially calling out the Islamic State specifically, a claim that was disputed by a Gazette Fact Checker in July — Monday during his weekly news conference.
The Republican governor said he thinks national security should be a primary issue in the presidential election, and that Trump, the real estate businessman and his party’s candidate, can better provide leadership in a dangerous world than Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State.
Branstad made the comments after being asked about the impact of recently published comments Trump made in 2005 about groping women. Branstad reiterated his reaction, that the comments were “reprehensible and offensive,” but also said he wants to focus on issues such as national security.
“I really believe the safety and security of America is at stake, and we need strong leadership,” Branstad said, noting the rise of the Middle East terrorist group the Islamic State and criticizing U.S. negotiations with Iran.
“I think we’re in the most jeopardy we’ve been in modern history, and we’ve seen many attacks here at home that need to be taken seriously. And I think Donald Trump has the courage to bring up those issues and address those issues.”
The Clinton campaign responded by pointing to reports and experts that said the Islamic State has used some of Trump’s comments in its recruiting efforts.
“Foreign policy experts agree, the ideas Trump has mentioned are dangerous and wrongheaded, and his anti-Muslim rhetoric and proposals are recruiting tools for ISIS and other terror groups,” a Clinton campaign statement says in part.
In stating his desire for a strong leader on national security, Branstad said the Islamic State “has, basically, sympathizers in every state in America.”
But a Gazette fact check disputed a similar claim made by Iowa’s Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst at the Republican National Convention in July, when she cited the FBI as saying the Islamic State is in all 50 states.
FBI director James Comey said only that there are investigations in all 50 states, and was speaking about homegrown terrorism in a broader sense, not just the Islamic State. Experts also said not all investigations lead to arrests, and not everyone who watches an Islamic State video or website is a terrorist or sympathizer.
Branstad said he gets a confidential briefing on potential threats, which he said includes threats from the Islamic State “and terrorists as well as drug, crime and all these kinds of things.”
Branstad’s spokesman said later that the governor was referring to “threats that are being monitored in every state, including Iowa.”
“This is confidential information that I can’t share. It’s shared with me on a confidential basis. I also was one of the governors that last February went to the FBI headquarters and we received an in-depth briefing there, as well,” Branstad said.
“But you’ve seen what’s happened around the country. You’ve seen what’s happened in California and New York and New Jersey and Tennessee,” he said, referring to terrorist attacks committed by U.S. residents.
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“There’s a threat every day, and we try to take it very seriously, and I think our people are doing a good job. But I know that it’s a dangerous and difficult situation and because of social media ISIS and their Islamic radical advocates are communicating with people all over the world, including in our state.”