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Mayor and college officials in city where Trump spoke Friday give changing numbers of student attendees at speech

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

City and school officials have revised their figures over the past 24 hours on the number of students who saw President Donald Trump speak Friday at a historically black college.

On Friday, Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Stephen Benjamin told CNN’s Sarah Westwood that out of more than 200 invitees to the President’s speech, only about 10 were actual students from the college. Benedict College spokeswoman Kymm Hunter told reporters on Friday that only seven students ultimately attended the speech.

Appearing on CNN’s “Newsroom” on Saturday afternoon, Benjamin told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield that there were “about 33 students there.” On Saturday, school officials told Westwood and CNN’s Caroline Kenny that “32 or 33” students were in attendance at the speech. The mayor, on Saturday, told CNN that the school put out an updated figure later on Friday. He also told CNN in two separate interviews on Saturday that 10 students were initially invited, but 33 were allowed in.

Ceeon Smith, the chief of staff at Benedict, told CNN the discrepancy came from the students in attendance that were scholars of a certain program and who had attended the event with a trustee of the college. Smith said “32 or 33” students attended the session with the President.

The new figure is still a small fraction of the more than 2,100 students who attend the school.

“This should have been an opportunity for at least scores of students to attend this event,” Benjamin told CNN on Friday. He said the president of the college requested more students be able to attend, but that the White House maintained control of organizing the event.

Trump’s visit Friday to the HBCU came amid the fallout over his decision this week to compare the impeachment proceedings on Capitol Hill to a “lynching” — words for which he declined to apologize as he prepared to leave the White House for the journey to South Carolina.

The President’s language created a divisive backdrop for his rare appearance at the historically black college, where he was slated to highlight his administration’s work on criminal justice reform. Although Trump did speak extensively about the criminal justice reform bill he signed into law in April, he also found a way to mention impeachment twice, demonstrating that the political turmoil engulfing his administration is never far from his mind.

Describing his “own experience” with unfair treatment, Trump said he is now facing “an investigation in search of a crime.”

“If this were a Democrat, they would never allow this to happen,” he said.

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the venue as Trump’s motorcade pulled into the college Friday afternoon.

The head of the South Carolina NAACP released a statement ahead of the visit condemning Trump’s words and encouraging skepticism, underscoring the divides within the community around Benedict over inviting Trump to speak.

The college referred questions to the White House and to the 2020 Bipartisan Justice Center, the group organizing the broader event at which Trump spoke. The White House declined to comment. The organizing group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect the differing numbers provided to CNN by both the mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, and Benedict College officials on Friday and Saturday.

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