Kamala Harris flip-flops on attending criminal justice forum, after announcing boycott over Trump award

In a bizarre back-and-forth on her attendance, Kamala Harris said Saturday she would, in fact, go to a criminal justice forum in South Carolina, despite very publicly announcing she would boycott the event due to a sponsoring group’s decision to give an award to President Trump.

The 2020 presidential hopeful on Friday announced that she would skip the 2019 Second Step Presidential Justice Forum at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, after the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center awarded the president for his efforts to pass sweeping criminal justice reform legislation.

Harris, D-Calif., and Trump traded barbs on Twitter Saturday morning—with Trump calling Harris a “badly failing presidential candidate,” and Harris suggesting the president is a “criminal.”

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But by midday, Harris had come around, with a campaign announcement that she would, in fact, be attending the forum, with her campaign claiming that she successfully pressured the group that awarded the president to be dropped as a sponsor.

“After Senator Kamala Harris stood up and objected to their group awarding Trump and excluding HBCU students from participating, the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center was removed as a sponsor for the criminal justice forum at Benedict College,” the Harris campaign said in a statement Saturday. “After their removal, Harris announced she will join students, Mayor Steve Benjamin and the broader Columbia community on campus at Benedict to discuss critical issues for the country’s justice system.”

Harris, at the event, explained her flip-flop in attendance to reporters.

"Let me just be clear so you can hear it from me," she said. "I refused to come because frankly Benedict College students were excluded and also I said I wouldn't come because I couldn't believe that Donald Trump would be given an award as it relates to criminal justice reform."

She added: "This is someone who's disrespected the voices who have fought for justice and sacrificed to create leadership around justice in this system."

"Someone who dares, dares, use the words lynching on the soil of South Carolina where blood has been spilled, he dares to compare himself to the people who have been on the wrong side of the system," she continued, referring to the president's usage of the word "lynching" this week when he described the House's formal impeachment inquiry as such.   "That is inappropriate."

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A spokesman for the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

The organization on Friday awarded the president for his administration’s work to pass the First Step Act, which grants early release to thousands of nonviolent offenders who are currently serving time in federal prisons.

President Donald Trump is awarded the Bipartisan Justice Award by Matthew Charles, right, one of the first prisoners released by the First Step Act, during the "2019 Second Step Presidential Justice Forum" at Benedict College, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, in Columbia, S.C.

President Donald Trump is awarded the Bipartisan Justice Award by Matthew Charles, right, one of the first prisoners released by the First Step Act, during the "2019 Second Step Presidential Justice Forum" at Benedict College, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. (AP)

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The First Step Act legislation received bipartisan support—including from Harris.

The senator has come under fire for her own record on criminal justice reform, but her campaign has consistently touted the progressive aspects of her career as district attorney and later attorney general of California, which include introducing a proposal for nationwide bail reform, as well as legalizing marijuana, which is part of her comprehensive criminal justice reform agenda, as rolled out by her campaign.

As of mid-week, polls showed Harris behind former Vice President Joe Biden, the top contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, by nearly 22 points, drawing only 5.3 percent support, according to RealClear Politics.

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A recent Fox News poll also showed Harris with 5 percent support in the race.

Fox News’ Vandana Rambaran contributed to this report.