NEW YORK — Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski said Friday that President Donald Trump lied about their December encounter in a tweet and that his "unhealthy obsession" with their program doesn't serve his mental health or the country well.
The two MSNBC personalities postponed a vacation in order to respond to Trump's tweet, which drew broad condemnation a day earlier because he called Brzezinski "crazy" and said she was "bleeding badly from a face-lift" when he saw them at his Palm Beach estate.
"It's been fascinating and frightening and really sad for our country," Brzezinski said on their program.
"We're OK," said Scarborough, her co-host and fiance. "The country's not."
Trump tweeted Friday that he watched Morning Joe for the first time in a long time. "Bad show," he wrote.
The hosts, who also co-bylined a column that was posted on the Washington Post's website on Friday, said they had known Trump for more than a decade and have "fond memories" of their relationship, but that he's changed in the past two years. They were at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach shortly before the New Year in December to encourage Trump to give them an interview.
Brzezinski, who said she's alarmed at how the president deals with women who disagree with him, said she believed her teasing about a Post story about fake Time magazine covers with Trump's face hanging at his golf facilities is what precipitated the latest Twitter attack.
"It is unbelievably alarming that this president is so easily played, he is easily played by a cable news host," she said. "What does that say to our allies? What does that say to our enemies?"
They said Trump was lying about Brzezinski having a face-lift, although "she did have a little skin under her chin tweaked."
Scarborough said that the National Enquirer had been working on a story about him and Brzezinski and that he was told by White House aides that if he called Trump and apologized for his show's coverage, the story would go away. He said he refused and the story ran.
Trump, in his Friday tweet, directly contradicted that claim. "He called me to stop a National Enquirer article," Trump wrote. "I said no!"
A recent New Yorker magazine article detailed a close relationship between Trump and David Pecker, chief executive of the Enquirer's parent company, and how the supermarket tabloid has lauded Trump and printed damaging articles about his political opponents.
Morning Joe and Trump have had a tortured relationship. The hosts were criticized by some for being too close to Trump during the campaign and giving his candidacy an early boost, but have turned sharply against him. Brzezinski in recent weeks has wondered whether Trump was mentally ill and said the country under his presidency "does feel like a developing dictatorship."
The hosts said that they've noticed a change in Trump's behavior over the past few years that left them neither shocked nor insulted by the Thursday tweet.
"The guy who is in the White House now is not the guy we know," Scarborough said.
Trump on Thursday had launched a crude Twitter attack on the brains, looks and temperament of Brzezinski, drawing bipartisan howls of outrage and leaving fellow Republicans beseeching him: Stop, please just stop.
Trump's tweets revived concerns about his views of women in a city where civility already is in short supply and he is struggling for any support he can get for his proposals on health care, immigration and other controversial issues.
"I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore)," Trump tweeted to his nearly 33 million followers Thursday morning. "Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!"
The tweets served to unite Democrats and Republicans for once in a chorus of protest that amounted to perhaps the loudest outcry since Trump took office.
"Obviously I don't see that as an appropriate comment," said Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called Trump's tweets, "blatantly sexist." The president, she added, "happens to disrespect women ... it's sad."
In television interviews Friday, Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, sent conflicting messages about whether Trump was justified in his tweet. She said he had the right to fight back when attacked by critics. But when pressed on ABC's Good Morning America, she said: "I didn't say I endorsed his attacks; I never said that. Bottom line, I endorse his ability to connect on social media with Americans."
Trump's allies cast his outburst as positive, an example of his refusal to be bullied.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president was "pushing back against people who have attacked him day after day after day. Where is the outrage on that?"
"The American people elected a fighter; they didn't elect somebody to sit back and do nothing," she added.
On the usually friendly Fox News Channel Thursday night, hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity did not defend the president's tweet but criticized the media reaction. "Washington melts down over Trump tweet," read the onscreen chyron during Carlson's show.