President Donald Trump slammed Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday as a "TOTAL RACIST" over a 2015 audio clip in which Bloomberg defended the "stop and frisk" police practice.
In reply to Trump's tweet, Bloomberg said, "I am not afraid of you and I will not let you bully me or anyone else in America."
Bloomberg made his comments defending stop and frisk in 2015, years before the three-term former New York mayor disavowed the policy in advance of launching his presidential bid in November.
In the audio clip, Bloomberg said the vast majority of murderers and murder victims "fit one M.O. — you could just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, 15 to 25 [years old]."
"One of the unintended consequences is people say, 'Oh my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana. They're all minorities,'" Bloomberg said during a talk at The Aspen Institute. "That's true. Why? Because we put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods. Yes, that's true. Why do you do it? Because that's where all the crime is."
"And the way you get the guns out of the kids' hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them, And then they start ... 'Oh I don't want to get caught.' So they don't bring the gun. They still have a gun, but they leave it at home."
Trump pounced on the audio in an all-caps tweet Tuesday morning.
"WOW, BLOOMBERG IS A TOTAL RACIST!" the president wrote in a reply to the audio clip.
But Trump, who himself has been accused of racism and has praised stop and frisk during his presidency, appears to have deleted that tweet soon after it was posted.
The White House declined to comment on why the tweet was deleted. But Trump, speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, heaped more criticism on Bloomberg for distancing himself from stop and frisk.
"He goes to a church, and he's practically crying. He looked like hell ... saying what a horrible what thing he did. I think that's so disingenuous ... look, he's a lightweight. He's a lightweight. You're going to find that out," Trump said from the desk of the Oval Office.
The president made his comments after Bloomberg hit back at Trump's tweet with a blistering statement .
"President Trump's deleted tweet is the latest example of his endless efforts to divide Americans," Bloomberg said.
Trump, he said, "inherited a country marching towards greater equality and divided us with racist appeals and hateful rhetoric. The challenge of the moment is clear: We must confront this president and do everything we can to defeat him."
"The president's attack on me clearly reflects his fear over the growing strength of my campaign," Bloomberg said.
"Make no mistake Mr. President: I am not afraid of you and I will not let you bully me or anyone else in America. Between now and November, I will do everything I can to defeat you whether I am on the ballot or not."
A Trump campaign spokesman told CNBC he did not know why the president's tweet vanished, and offered another searing criticism of Bloomberg's comments.
"It's no wonder Mike Bloomberg never wanted that tape to surface. It's disgusting," Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said, apparently referring to a 2015 report that said Bloomberg did not want the Aspen think tank to air footage of his appearance at the event.
The recording was first shared on Monday by a supporter of Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, Benjamin Dixon, a podcast host who has been seeking information about Bloomberg on social media.
Bloomberg was the mayor of New York from 2002 to 2013. During that time, NYPD officers engaged regularly in the practice of stopping, questioning and frisking civilians or suspects on the street.
Critics said the practice was racially biased against minorities and unconstitutional in its implementation. In 2013, a federal judge in New York ruled that it violated rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Bloomberg championed stop-and-frisk during his time as mayor, arguing that the program "keeps New York safe" and has saved tens of thousands of lives.
Addressing a black church in Brooklyn, Bloomberg said the practice often led to the disproportionate detaining of blacks and Latinos. He added that he "can't change history" but now realizes "I was wrong."
If anyone was wrongly stopped by police, "I apologize," he said.
In his statement Tuesday, Bloomberg again expressed regret for his prior stance on stop and frisk.
"I inherited the police practice of stop-and-frisk, and as part of our effort to stop gun violence it was overused. By the time I left office, I cut it back by 95%, but I should've done it faster and sooner," Bloomberg said. "I regret that and I have apologized — and I have taken responsibility for taking too long to understand the impact it had on Black and Latino communities."
Trump has been accused of racism by his critics inside and outside of office. In 2018, he defended "stop and frisk," telling an audience of law enforcement leaders in Orlando, Florida, that Chicago should bring back the police practice to reduce crime there.
In 1973, he was sued by the Justice Department, who accused Trump Management of discriminating against African Americans. Trump settled that case without admitting guilt.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump took heat when he said U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who oversaw a class-action lawsuit alleging fraud by the now-defunct Trump University, could not be impartial because he was "Mexican."
Curiel is of Mexican descent but was born in Indiana.
As president, Trump was excoriated by members both major parties when multiple lawmakers claimed that he repeatedly described African nations as "s---hole" countries.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who attended that event, said Trump also asked, "do we need more Haitians?"
Trump denied using the term.
Christina Wilkie contributed to this report from Washington.