US president Donald Trump belatedly weighed in on the rumbling row over White House press secretary Sarah Sanders' ejection from a restaurant in Virginia, because, she said, she works for the president.
Ms Sanders had tweeted that she had been asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Virginia on Friday night. Her reporting of the incident was criticized by ethics experts, who said she should not have used an official government account to personally condemn a private business.
Early Monday, Mr Trump declared on Twitter: "The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders."
His post continued: “I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!”
Trump presented no evidence to support his claims.
In 2017 it was revealed that Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort had been cited by Florida officials for 78 health violations in three years, including rust, mould and parasites.
Ms Sanders has not acknowledged the incident on social media again since first tweeting about it on Saturday.
Sophie Wilkinson, the restaurant's owner, told the Washington Post that she asked Ms Sanders to leave, saying the restaurant "has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation".
Walter Shaub, the federal ethics chief under Barack Obama and briefly Donald Trump and now a fierce critic of the administration, responded: "Sanders used her official govt account to condemn a private business for personal reasons … she can lob attacks on her own time but not using her official position."
The Hartford Courant newspaper on Sunday reported that a restaurant called the Red Hen in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, entirely unconnected to the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, where Sanders and her party had been confronted, was being flooded messages from members of the public who support Trump, threatening to organize a boycott and saying things such as: "You're done, and we're coming to get you'.
Several other Trump administration officials, including Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, have been confronted in public in recent days amid intense fury over an administration policy that led to a spike in the number of migrant children being separated from their parents after crossing the border illegally.
Ms Nielsen cut short a working dinner at a Mexican restaurant last week after protesters shouted, "Shame!" until she left.
Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller was accosted by someone at a different Mexican restaurant, who called him "a fascist," according to the New York Post.
The displays of hostility have set off a fierce debate about whether politics should play a role in how administration officials are treated in public, with Ms Sanders's father, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, denouncing his daughter's treatment as "bigotry".
– Guardian & agencies