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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: 69th Primetime Emmy Awards – Arrivals – Los Angeles
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: 69th Primetime Emmy Awards – Arrivals – Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Alec Baldwin defended his impersonation of Donald Trump on television’s “Saturday Night Live” sketch show while the U.S. President was hospitalized with COVID-19, saying he wouldn’t have done so had Trump been “truly, gravely ill.”

Baldwin said the producers and the NBC network “don’t want to sink the ship. So if there was ever the suggestion that Trump was truly, gravely ill … really in trouble, then I would bet you everything I have that we wouldn’t even get near that in terms of the content of the show,” Baldwin said in an Instagram video on Sunday night in response to criticism on social media.

“Saturday Night Live” was broadcast from New York the day after Trump was admitted to the hospital with coronavirus symptoms. The severity of his illness is unclear after conflicting reports from doctors and the White House.

The TV show opened with a sketch making fun of the raucous presidential debate between Trump and Democratic contender Joe Biden, played by Jim Carrey, that took place before Trump tested positive for the disease.

“Did you take the COVID test you promised to take in advance?” asked the actor playing the debate moderator.

“Absolutely, scouts honor,” said Baldwin’s Trump with his fingers crossed. “The China virus is a hoax – and that will probably come back to haunt me later this week.”

Baldwin, who won an Emmy for playing Trump, dismissed “the perception that we’re mocking him while he’s sick.””We only have the words of the White House itself and the people who work there themselves to go on, and all of them have been saying that he is not in any danger,” Baldwin said in his posting.

Later in Saturday’s show, comedian Chris Rock quipped, “President Trump is in the hospital due to COVID, and my heart goes out to COVID.”

NBC did not immediately return a request for comment on Monday on Baldwin’s remarks or the content of the “Saturday Night Live” broadcast.

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