UCLA basketball players Cody Riley, LiAngelo Ball and Jalen Hill speak at a press conference at UCLA after flying back from China, where they were detained on suspicion of shoplifting, in Los AngelesUCLA basketball players Cody Riley, LiAngelo Ball and Jalen Hill speak at a press conference at UCLA after flying back from China, where they were detained on suspicion of shoplifting, in Los Angeles, California. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday upbraided the father of one of three UCLA basketball players who were detained in China on suspicion of shoplifting after he questioned Trump's role in their release.
"Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!," Trump wrote in a Twitter post.
The three players from the University of California, Los Angeles apologized last week and thanked Trump for helping secure their release by raising the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit.
But LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo Ball, on Saturday downplayed Trump's involvement in the release.
"Don't tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out," he said on TV network ESPN.
The White House declined to comment Sunday on the president’s tweet.
The Republican president, while finishing up a 12-day, five-nation trip to Asia, said he had sought the help of Chinese President Xi Jinping in the case.
"What they did was unfortunate," Trump told reporters in Manila last week, while describing Xi's response as "terrific."
The three players - Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill - admitted to stealing items from three stores during a team trip to China. Before they thanked Trump on Wednesday for intervening with Xi, Trump had wondered whether they would express gratitude to him.
"Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!," Trump tweeted on Wednesday.
Trump's remarks on Sunday provoked strong reactions on Twitter, including from one Democratic lawmaker who accused the president of personal pettiness.
"The President would have left American students in a foreign jail because their families didn't lavish sufficient praise on him. How can someone in such a big office be so small?" Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff wrote on Twitter.
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)
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