An Illinois state senator has issued an apology after photos from a fundraiser surfaced showing an attendee pretending to shoot someone wearing a mask of President Donald Trump, sparking widespread condemnation and outrage.
"I reject any suggestion of violence towards the president or anyone else," Sen. Martin Sandoval said in a statement Monday about the pictures that were reportedly posted online Friday after a political fundraiser for the Chicago Democrat, who has been in office since 2003.
In two of the photos, a man is seen holding a fake assault weapon pointed at the head of another man wearing a Trump mask, clutching his chest and dressed in what appears to be a form of traditional Mexican clothing.
"As a matter of clarification, I had absolutely no knowledge that this regrettable exchange between one of my 1,200 guests and a third-party vendor took place," Sandoval's statement continued. "Those individuals involved exhibited extremely poor judgment."
A spokesman for the Chicago office of the U.S. Secret Service said the agency was "aware of the fundraiser" but declined to comment as to whether there was an ongoing investigation into the photos.
"The Secret Service investigates all threats to the President and takes them seriously," the USSS spokesman said.
Other photos shared online show the unidentified man who held the fake gun standing with Sandoval at the event, though the lawmaker is not seen in the photos of the mock assassination and he said he and his staff were unaware of the incident as it was happening.
The fundraiser was held Friday at Klein Creek Golf Club in suburban Winfield, a Facebook page for the event shows. Tickets started at $250 for general admission and reached $5,000 for the highest sponsorship level, according to Sandoval's online invitation.
Sandoval, a member of the Senate Democratic Caucus leadership and chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, identified the fake weapon as a "beverage dispenser" and said the incident involved a vendor "hired to provide music and entertainment" but "was in no way part of any scheduled program."
"I want to again express my deepest regret that this unfortunate incident took place at event in my name," Sandoval's statement concluded.
The photos of the mock assassination drew widespread condemnation from Republicans and Democrats alike.
"Dangerous imagery like this will be condemned and seen as inappropriate by people of sound mind; however, a mentally unstable individual who wants to harm President Trump might find them as an inspiration," Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider said in a statement, calling Sandoval's apology "too little, too late."
Schneider also said that if the person in the photos was a staffer or volunteer for Sandoval, "they should be terminated immediately."
Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker also condemned the photos in a statement Saturday night, according to WCIA, reiterating Monday that the incident was "inappropriate."
"In this moment especially, political civility is important. We also live in a moment when we've seen gun violence proliferate," Pritzker said at an unrelated news conference Monday morning. "I think it was important for me to speak out about it, it was important for Sen. Sandoval, as he did, to speak out about it. It's inappropriate to point even a fake gun at any individual, especially at this moment and I know that he feels the same as I do - we need to call it out when we see it."
The photos also caught the attention of Kellyanne Conway, a top White House aide to Trump. She retweeted the photos with the caption, "Every Democrat should be asked if they support or disavow this."
A spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Illinois denounced the images as well, pointing to recent mass shootings in Texas and California.
"The tragedies in El Paso and Gilroy have demonstrated how hate-filled political rhetoric can fuel violence," Maura Possley said in a statement. "These images are unacceptable and dangerous. The place to make our voices heard against Trump is at the ballot box."