Donald Trump defended his praise of Saddam Hussein at an Ohio rally where he spent nearly an hour heaping scorn on television networks for the way they have covered his presidential campaign.
"I don't love Saddam Hussein," Trump said of the late Iraqi dictator on Wednesday. "I hate Saddam Hussein. But he was damn good at killing terrorists."
The Republican business tycoon also said an aide should not have removed a six-pointed star from a recent Trump tweet that was widely denounced as anti-Semitic. It showed his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, a pile of cash and the star, later changed into a circle, with the caption, "Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!"
"They took the star down," Trump complained. "I said too bad; you should have left it up. I would have rather defended it. Just leave it up and say no, that's not a star of David; that's just a star."
Trump's angry remarks in a key battleground state where Clinton is outpacing him in advertising and organization distracted from his effort to highlight the FBI's condemnation of her use of a private email server when she was secretary of State.
Trump pounded CNN and NBC for what he called their dishonest coverage of his comments on Hussein, the charges of anti-Semitism and his recent trip to Scotland to promote one of his golf resorts.
He said he no longer watches CNN, a network whose enormous amounts of Trump coverage spared him millions of dollars that he otherwise would have needed to spend on TV ads during the Republican primaries.
"When people treat you unfairly, just turn your back and go someplace else, or knock 'em on their ass — one or the other," he told thousands of supporters at a convention center in Sharonville, a suburb of Cincinnati.
"Someday, I'm going to tell you the real story of CNN," he added.
Trump lashed out at the anchor of NBC's "Meet the Press," calling him "Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd" and a "disloyal" reporter ungrateful for an interview Trump granted when the show's ratings were poor. Trump criticized NBC and other news outlets for highlighting his praise of Hussein at a North Carolina rally on Tuesday.
Trump told the Ohio audience that he had made a point of saying Hussein was a "bad guy" before applauding his approach to terrorism.
"What I did say is that he was good at one thing: He was really good at killing terrorists," Trump said. "He didn't wait around. You think they gave the terrorists trials that lasted 18 years, and then after 18 years, if they had the right lawyer, they erect a statue in honor of the terrorist, right? Not with Trump."
Trump said Iraq was now a Harvard University for terrorists. "Before? Boom," Trump said, gesturing with his hand as if firing a pistol. "You're a terrorist? Boom."
When Hussein was president, Iraq was one of a handful of nations on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Notorious for using chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians in Iraq, Hussein provided safe haven to the Abu Nidal organization and Abu Ibrahim, who masterminded bombings of U.S. aircraft, according to the State Department. Hussein was executed in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Turning to his controversial tweet, Trump told the Ohio crowd that Dan Scavino, the aide who posted it, was married to a Jewish woman. He said his daughter Ivanka and some of his grandchildren were also Jewish.
"Ivanka married a Jewish guy who's brilliant, who's wonderful," Trump said.
Ivanka, whose father is Presbyterian, has converted to Judaism. Her husband, Jared Kushner, a top Trump advisor, issued a statement Tuesday saying the candidate "does not at all subscribe to any racist or anti-Semitic thinking."
Trump said the six-pointed star in the tweet "could have been a sheriff's star." He called CNN "dishonest as hell" for its extensive coverage of the controversy.
David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and onetime Louisiana state lawmaker, posted the image of Trump's original tweet star on his own Twitter feed. "Absolutely True!" Duke wrote of Clinton, with Israeli flags attached to the names of seven of her donors with the label: "Top 7 funders all Zio-Tribalists."
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, a top Republican who has endorsed Trump, told a Wisconsin radio host Tuesday that Trump needs to "clean up" his manner of using Twitter.
"Look, anti-Semitic images – they've got no place in a presidential campaign," Ryan said. "Candidates should know that."