NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump says he thinks a group of black pastors meeting with him Monday had planned to endorse him for president but were pressured out of it because he "believes all lives matter."
"Probably some of the Black Lives Matter folks called them up and said, 'Oh, you shouldn't be meeting with Trump because he believes all lives matter,'" Trump said Monday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," referring to the movement protesting against police brutality and the killing of unarmed African-Americans.
Trump predicted some of the 100 black evangelical leaders would endorse him after the meeting, nonetheless.
Many of the religious leaders invited to the meet-and-greet with Trump were surprised that the gathering was being advertised by his Republican presidential campaign as an endorsement. After they objected, the Trump campaign decided to keep the meeting private and quietly canceled a press conference afterward meant to announce their support.
"It's a miscommunication," said Darrell Scott, the senior pastor of New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who helped to organize the meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon in New York — one of several Trump has convened in recent months with black religious leaders.
Trump's campaign had issued a press release last week that read: "Mr. Trump will be joined by a coalition of 100 African-American evangelical pastors and religious leaders who will endorse the GOP front-runner after a private meeting at Trump Tower."
The campaign later re-branded the event as "a private, informational meet-and-greet with many members of the Coalition of African American Ministers." A campaign press release said that a number of attendees were still expected to endorse Trump after their meeting, but that the event would be closed to the press.
On Monday, Trump said, "I have no idea what the meeting is really. ... We'll see what happens. I don't know it it's an endorsement, I don't know if it's an endorsement by some."
"I do think pressure was put on them by people who may disagree with certain things," added Trump, who said he has "a great relationship with the black pastors."
Trump has been courting the support of evangelical black clergy members as he works to broaden his appeal in a crowded Republican field.
Scott estimated that more than 100 preachers from across the country would be attending the meeting, despite criticism in an open letter in Ebony magazine from more than 100 black religious leaders.
In the letter, the group wrote that "Trump's racially inaccurate, insensitive and incendiary rhetoric should give those charged with the care of the spirits and souls of black people great pause." They also expressed concern that the meeting on Monday would "give Trump the appearance of legitimacy among those who follow your leadership and respect your position as clergy."
Earlier this month, a black protester was roughed up by Trump supporters at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama. Trump said after the incident, "Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing."
Trump also drew criticism recently for retweeting an image of inaccurate statistics that vastly over-represented the number of whites killed by blacks, among other errors.