President Trump on Friday defended his comments after the 2017 “Unite the Right” protests in which an avowed neo-Nazi killed a woman and injured dozens of others in Charlottesville, arguing that his focus was on the protesters defending the monument of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Trump, pressed on whether he stood by his comments that there were “very fine people on both sides,” told reporters, “If you look at what I said, you will see that that question was answered perfectly. And I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general.”
Former vice president Joe Biden resurrected Trump’s response to the deadly rally by self-professed white supremacists in a video to launch his presidential campaign on Thursday. In it, Biden said Trump’s remarks “shocked the conscience of this nation.”
“With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it,” Biden says in the video. “And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”
Trump, who spoke to reporters en route to a speech to the National Rifle Association in Indiana, said, “People were there protesting the taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee. Everybody knows that.”
Trump and others have tried to distinguish between the self-proclaimed white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and the other supporters of Confederate monuments, who were all marching in Charlottesville that weekend.
But the events that weekend were organized by a self-proclaimed white nationalist, Richard Spencer, and those in attendance wore swastikas and chanted anti-Semitic slogans.
James Alex Fields Jr., who killed Heather Heyer and injured 35 other people when he plowed his car into a group of counterprotesters at the rally by self-proclaimed white supremacists, pleaded guilty to hate crimes in federal court earlier this month.
Fields, 21, of Ohio admitted guilt to 29 of 30 counts in a federal indictment as part of a deal with prosecutors, who agreed they would not seek the death penalty in the case. Fields is set to be sentenced July 3.
Some Trump supporters have become Charlottesville truthers, arguing that Trump’s comments were taken out of context. They maintain, as Trump does, that he was not calling self-proclaimed neo-Nazis and white supremacists “very fine people,” and in fact, he said they should be condemned.
Post writer Aaron Blake more thoroughly examined the fallacies of this argument, noting that it’s hard to make the case that there were “very fine people” marching alongside people chanting, “Jews will not replace us.”
Then on August 15, 2017 Trump again defended the backlash of his comments equating neo-Nazis with those protesting the neo-Nazis by first claiming it was “the left” who was violent and initiated the violence, then again and again stuck to his guns that “both sides” were to blame, which is when Trump made the statement “there was very fine people on both sides.” Later in the press conference Trump said he’s not defending the neo-Nazis, but the obvious problem is this.
First, It was a neo-Nazi rally.
It was always billed as a neo-Nazi rally with prominent white supremacists, such as Richard Spencer, David Duke, and others, all to support the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a traitor who fought the United States specifically for the right to own humans of African descent as property.
Second, Trump later in the press conference, while clarifying his remarks, said that the night before the rally he saw the Unite the Right protesters walking very quietly the taking down the statue of Robert E. Lee.
They were not walking very quietly, but were all carrying tiki torches and chanting “Blood and Soil!” and “Jews will not replace us!”
And finally Trump attacked the “left” for showing up to protest the neo-Nazis without a permit, and pointing out the neo-Nazis had a permit and a right to be there.
Donald Trump was absolutely giving neo-Nazis a pass, and morally equating them with people protesting neo-Nazis.
A top White House appointee at the Department of Veterans Affairs sought to silence the agency’s chief diversity officer, who — in the aftermath of last year’s racially charged violence in Charlottesville — pushed for a forceful condemnation that was at odds with President Trump’s response, newly disclosed emails show.
The tense exchange between Georgia Coffey, a nationally recognized expert in workplace diversity and race relations, and John Ullyot, who remains VA’s chief communications official, occurred during a low point in Trump’s presidency: when he blamed “many sides” for the deadly clash in Charlottesville without singling out the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who rallied there.
One woman was killed and dozens were injured in the August 2017 protest, which began over the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a local park and ended when a car plowed into a crowd of anti-racism protesters.
VA’s secretary at the time, David Shulkin, made headlines that week when he appeared to break with Trump, telling reporters the violence in Charlottesville “outraged” him. Coffey, a career senior executive at VA, pressed the agency’s leaders to issue a statement making it clear that VA stood against such a “repugnant display of hate and bigotry by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan,” according to the emails.
The emails were provided to The Washington Post by the nonprofit watchdog group American Oversight, which obtained them via the Freedom of Information Act. The correspondence sheds new light on the politically delicate decisions federal agencies faced as officials sought to balance the need to address employee concerns with a desire not to upset the White House.
A statement from VA leaders was necessary, Coffey wrote in one email to Ullyot, because the agency’s workforce was unsettled by the uproar caused by the Charlottesville violence. Minorities make up more than 40 percent of VA’s 380,000 employees, the federal government’s second-largest agency.
Ullyot told Coffey to stand down, the emails show. A person familiar with their dispute, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Post that Ullyot was enforcing a directive from the White House, where officials were scrambling to contain the fallout from Trump’s comments, and they did not want government officials to call further attention to the controversy.
VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the agency received no such guidance from the White House.
Coffey, who declined to comment, retired from VA shortly after the dust-up, frustrated with what she felt was a lack of support from the Trump administration, according to her former colleagues. She now works as senior manager for diversity and inclusion at Lockheed Martin.
Ullyot, a seasoned media professional who worked on Trump’s campaign, is VA’s assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs. His exchange with Coffey was respectful, and he noted that he was acting at Shulkin’s direction, according to his emails. Shulkin, whom Trump forced out of the Cabinet post in March, and other officials were copied on the messages.
At VA, the fallout from Charlottesville remains a sensitive subject. In response to a request seeking comment for this report, VA’s current secretary, Robert Wilkie, issued a statement affirming that “John Ullyot is on the VA team because he is committed to veterans and has spent a lifetime of exceptional service as a Marine and public servant.”
Ullyot referred questions to VA’s public affairs office.
On Aug. 17, days after the Charlottesville violence, Coffey — then deputy assistant secretary for diversity and inclusion — emailed public affairs. She shared a draft of her statement and accompanying remarks, and requested help disseminating it to employees and the public.
Her remarks said the incident served “as a tragic reminder that our work in civil rights and inclusion is not finished.” She called on VA employees to be mindful of federal anti-discrimination policies and the agency’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
The response from a staffer in public affairs said, “John Ullyot does not want to post the message, as the Secretary previously made statements in the news media on this topic earlier this week.”
In an emotional statement the day before, at Trump’s private golf club in Bedminster, N.J., Shulkin said he gave “my personal opinions as an American and as a Jewish American. . . . And for me in particular, I think in learning history, that we know that staying silent on these issues is simply not acceptable.”
Other top administration officials echoed his sentiments.
Coffey urged expediency, telling Ullyot that she had sent the statement to Shulkin and his chief of staff for their review, according to their email exchange.
Ullyot then indicated that after consulting with Shulkin, the secretary said that “we should all feel free to share our own personal views on the recent events . . . as he did.’’ Ullyot wanted to remove the statement’s more incendiary language but told Coffey she could keep the part that reminded employees of VA’s “strong commitment” to equal employment opportunity and diversity, their emails show.
Coffey told Ullyot that she worried his edits would “dilute my message and fail to convey the sense of condemnation that I hope we all feel,” the emails show. She offered to remove Shulkin’s name from the statement, but Ullyot told her that he and Shulkin had agreed not to use it.
Shulkin said in an interview that he does not recall his conversations with Ullyot about how VA should respond to the incident. “I’ve been pretty public about my opinions on the Charlottesville events . . . and of course I think all Americans should express their views,” he said.
Coffey’s staff worried that she would get in trouble if she disregarded Ullyot’s guidance, according to other emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group that first publicized the episode last year. The staff suggested that she should tone down her remarks, but Coffey declined. She posted the full remarks under her name in the monthly newsletter posted online by VA’s diversity office. Agency officials removed it and reprimanded her. She retired soon after.
Cashour said Shulkin had “dictated explicitly to John how he wanted this particular issue handled.” The secretary, Cashour said, was “adamant that VA employees keep their personal views on the Charlottesville issue out of official VA communications, as Shulkin had done himself in public comments two days beforehand. John was simply ensuring that Coffey understood and followed Shulkin’s guidance.”
The agency has grappled with issues surrounding race in recent years.
VA has long had an Office on Diversity and Inclusion to help improve race relations internally, and during the Obama administration appointed a senior official to travel around the country to set up conversations on race. The official, John Fuller, retired last year, citing a lack of support from the Trump administration.
In October, a senior official in VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization was forced to remove a portrait of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and the Ku Klux Klan’s first grand wizard, from his office in Washington after offending employees. The official said he was unaware of Forrest’s affiliation with the hate group.
The same month, VA took down a placard outside a conference room in the same office that employees had named for Stonewall Jackson, another Confederate general. Cashour said officials were unaware the room had been named for Jackson and blamed a contractor employed by VA and the contractor’s supervisor. The contractor was instructed to take down the placard but had failed to do so, Cashour said.
President Trump on Saturday tweeted that he condemns “all types of racism and acts of violence” ahead of the one-year anniversary of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Trump has been under intense pressure to condemn last year’s violence and speak out against white supremacists organizing an anniversary rally set to take place on Sunday.
“The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division,” he tweeted. “We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”
The president faced significant criticism over his response to the white supremacist rally last August that left one counter-protestor dead, saying that there was “blame” as well as “very fine people” on “both sides” of the rally. While Trump does not repeat that claim in his Saturday tweet, he also does not assign blame for racism.
The second iteration of the white nationalist gathering is set to take place in Washington, D.C., this weekend. Events are also planned in and around Charlottesville, where authorities have declared a state of emergency in preparation.
Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Two Virginia state troopers also died as they were responding to the violence when their helicopter crashed.
D.C. officials are already taking security precautions ahead of Sunday’s protest to prevent a repeat of such violence. Police Chief Peter Newsham and Mayor Muriel Bowswer (D) announced Thursday that guns would not be allowed at the rally – even for gun owners with legal permits – and that protesters and counter-protesters would be kept separate.
President Donald Trump is not backing off his defiant response to violence at a white supremacist rally in Virginia last month.
The president told reporters on Thursday that he told Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., in a one-on-one meeting that “you have some pretty bad dudes” opposing white nationalists. His comments echoed the most divisive remarks he has made as president, which drew criticism from bipartisan lawmakers, business leaders and his own advisors.
Trump invited Scott, the only African-American Republican in the Senate, to the meeting Wednesday in what the White House reportedly called a demonstration of his commitment to positive race relations.
Trump says he told Scott that violence by some in the so-called antifa movement — far-left groups who oppose white nationalists — justified his remarks condemning “both sides” for the Charlottesville violence. A suspected white nationalist is accused of ramming a car into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville, killing one woman and injuring many others.
Here’s Trump’s summary of his meeting with Scott, according to pool reporters aboard Air Force One:
I think especially in light of the advent of Antifa, if you look at what’s going on there. You have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also and essentially that’s what I said. Now because of what’s happened since then with Antifa. When you look at really what’s happened since Charlottesville, a lot of people are saying and people have actually written, ‘Gee, Trump may have a point.’ I said there’s some very bad people on the other side also.
Scott’s office responded to Trump’s comments by saying he was “very, very clear about the brutal history surrounding the white supremacist movement and their horrific treatment of black and other minority groups.”
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, and to expect the president’s rhetoric to change based on one 30 minute conversation is unrealistic,” the statement said. “Antifa is bad and should be condemned, yes, but white supremacists have been killing and tormenting black Americans for centuries. There is no realistic comparison.”
Last month, when Trump said “very fine people” marched with the white nationalists in Virginia, his remarks drew widespread condemnation. The comments led to the dissolution of two business councils advising Trump and caused White House chief economic advisor Gary Cohn, among others, to publicly rebuke the president.
Scott also commended Trump for saying he wanted to diversify his staff. He also said he was encouraged by Trump considering his Investing in Opportunity Act, which aims to invest in economically distressed communities.
Donald Trump AGAIN said the people who were run over and killed by Nazis driving their car through a crowd in Charlottesville were just as much to blame for violence as the actual Nazis who ran their car through a crowd to kill protester.
This is unbelievable coming from a President of the United States.
Trump took particular aim at Antifa, a small and insignificant anti-fascist movement that right-wing media like Fox News uses to paint the entire left as a violent agitators.
President Donald Trump lashed out at Sen. Lindsey Graham on Thursday morning, claiming the Republican from South Carolina falsely stated his words about violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In a tweet on Thursday, Trump said “publicity seeking” Graham incorrectly stated that the president said “there is moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis & white supremacists. … and people like Ms. Heyer.”
Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis & white supremacists……
Heather Heyer was killed after she was struck by a car driven into a crowd of people who were protesting a white nationalist rally in Virginia.
In a statement on Wednesday, Graham said Trump “took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members who attended the Charlottesville rally and people like Ms. Heyer. I, along with many others, do not endorse this moral equivalency.”
President Trump’s personal lawyer on Wednesday forwarded an email to conservative journalists, government officials and friends that echoed secessionist Civil War propaganda and declared that the group Black Lives Matter “has been totally infiltrated by terrorist groups.”
The email forwarded by John Dowd, who is leading the president’s legal team, painted the Confederate general Robert E. Lee in glowing terms and equated the South’s rebellion to that of the American Revolution against England. Its subject line — “The Information that Validates President Trump on Charlottesville” — was a reference to comments Mr. Trump made earlier this week in the aftermath of protests in the Virginia college town.
“You cannot be against General Lee and be for General Washington,” the email reads, “there literally is no difference between the two men.”
The contents of the email are at the heart of a roiling controversy over race and history that turned deadly last weekend in Charlottesville, where white nationalist groups clashed with protesters over the planned removal of a statue of Lee. An Ohio man with ties to white nationalist groups drove his car through a crowd, killing one woman and injuring many others, authorities say.
In a fiery news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Trump blamed “both sides” for that violence. He said many of those who opposed the statue’s removal were good people protesting the loss of their culture, and he questioned whether taking down statues of Lee could lead to monuments of Washington also being removed.
His words were widely criticized in Washington but were praised by white supremacists, including a former Ku Klux Klan leader.
Mr. Dowd received the email on Tuesday night and forwarded it on Wednesday morning to more than two dozen recipients, including a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security, The Wall Street Journal editorial page and journalists at Fox News and The Washington Times. There is no evidence that any of the journalists used the contents of the email in their coverage. One of the recipients provided a copy to The New York Times.
Mr. Almon said he hoped Mr. Dowd would circulate his email.
“I was hoping it would get in the hands of President Trump — I quite frankly hope he would review it right now because his presidency is on the line,” Mr. Almon said in the interview. “I don’t believe the president is getting the correct advice or proper information. Someone reading what I sent to Dowd will view Robert E. Lee differently.”
There is no evidence that Mr. Dowd sent the email to Mr. Trump. Other recipients include Washington lawyers and members of Mr. Dowd’s family.
Mr. Dowd circulated the email hours after the White House issued its own talking points to Republicans defending the president.
“The president was entirely correct — both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility,” the White House said. Those talking points, circulated on Tuesday night, did not address Mr. Trump’s comments about Lee and Washington.
The email that Mr. Dowd forwarded, however, issues a full-throated endorsement of those comments. It declared that Lee “saved America” by opting to surrender rather than launch guerrilla attacks in the final days of the Civil War.
Professor Giesberg said it is true that Lee rejected such tactics, but his decision did not save America.
“It’s like a history I don’t even recognize,” she said.
In an interview, Mr. Almon said he is not a Republican and that he does not reflexively support Mr. Trump.
“I’m against racism,” he said.
Mr. Almon said that he had also provided information about the F.B.I. to the office of Representative Devin Nunes of California, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
An email Mr. Almon provided to The Times showed that he had been in communication in March with Mr. Nunes’s office. There is no evidence that Mr. Nunes circulated that email.
Some of America’s top CEOs were preparing to issue a statement criticizing the president — so he effectively fired them from a White House council first.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced he was ending two business advisory councils amid a stampede of defections and after one of the groups had decided to disband over the president’s much-criticized response to the weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Va.
A person close to Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum said the group had already told the White House it had resolved to disband and condemn the president’s Tuesday claims that “both sides” were responsible for violence at a white supremacist and neo-Nazi gathering and that some “very fine people” were among the marchers defending a Confederate statue.
The group in a statement presented the decision as mutual with Trump, though EY CEO Mark Weinberger tweeted Wednesday that “we made the right call.” Members of the separate Manufacturing Council — which had already lost eight members this week — were due to hold their own call Wednesday.
“Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday afternoon, ending the debate.
The split likely won’t change Trump’s agenda — the long-time real estate developer still intends to slash corporate taxes and regulations. And the White House said a separate group of government officials called the American Technology Council, which met with top Sillicon Valley executives and Trump in June, will keep working. Still, the break-up of the two high-profile CEO groups shows increasing pressure on business leaders to distance themselves from the White House and could hurt Trump’s standing with the pro-business, establishment wing of voters and donors in the Republican Party.
“There is no room for equivocation here: the evil on display by these perpetrators of hate should be condemned and has no place in a country that draws strength from our diversity and humanity,” JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said in a statement Wednesday after Trump disbanded the Strategic and Policy Forum to which he belonged. Dimon had weighed in on the events in Charlottesville over the weekend but had not criticized the president directly.
“It is a leader’s role, in business or government, to bring people together, not tear them apart,” he said.
Executives historically have clamored to belong to White House business councils, which give them an opportunity to pitch the president behind closed doors.
Merck’s Kenneth Frazier — the first CEO to announce he was leaving Trump’s manufacturing council this week — repeatedly pressed Trump in privateon reforming tax laws. Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris was initially granted a private sit-down with EPA head Scott Pruitt as the agency weighed a key regulation, though the meeting was trimmed down to a brief greeting.
In return, the executives served as surrogates for a White House trying to sell its pro-business message. Council members regularly flanked the president at a series of announcements and executive order signings. Executives like Campbell’s Soup CEO Denise Morrison told reporters they were optimistic about Trump’s effect on the economy. Dow donated about $1 million for the president’s inauguration.
The corporate backlash started Monday with Merck’s Frazier — the only African-American CEO on Trump’s manufacturing council — who said he was quitting “to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.” Within a day, the CEOs of Under Armour and Intel said they were leaving too.
The president on Tuesday called them “grandstanders” on Twitter and lashed out at Merck specifically. He claimed the defections wouldn’t hurt him.
“For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning. However, no other CEOs publicly stepped forward to join the council, and five more leaders said they were leaving.
On Tuesday — before Trump’s news conference but after he took heat Saturday for blaming “many sides” for violence in Charlottesville — Morrison of Campbell’s said she planned to remain on the manufacturing council. Social media campaigns in response called the company a “Soup Nazi” in reference to the television show Seinfeld; another circulated altered photos of fake Campbell’s products called “Cream of Complicity” and “Swastika Soup.”
On Wednesday, Morrison said she couldn’t serve on the council any longer. “Racism and murder are unequivocally reprehensible and are not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville,” Morrison said in a statement.
Others also flipped their stances.“The President’s most recent statements equating those who are motivated by race-based hate with those who stand up against hatred is unacceptable and has changed our decision to participate in the White House Manufacturing Advisory Council,” Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky said on Wednesday — less than 24 hours after telling reporters he planned to stay on the council so J&J would have a voice in high-level discussions.
Activists said the overnight campaigns and threats of boycotts motivated executives. Progressive groups have also pushed payment processing companies to cut ties with hate groups, collecting thousands of signatures on petitions, though Discover, Visa and Mastercard told POLITICO they had limited ability to force banks to cut off merchants conducting legal businesses.
“The collapse of the CEO councils is not due to an outbreak of conscience,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Instead, it is public pressure — pressure for the CEOs to evidence a measure of decency — that is driving them off the councils. That’s not exactly the most inspiring example of moral leadership. No profiles in courage here.”
Silicon Valley executives such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Apple’s Tim Cook also met with Trump in June through theadministration’sAmerican Technology Council, which is technically made up of government employees. Still, activists like Weissman are calling on the affiliated executives to condemn Trump’s comments too.
Until this week, Trump had spent months praising the same executives who are now rebuking him.
“I want to thank these great business leaders,” Trump said in February, when Merck’s Frazier, J&J’s Gorsky, Campbell’s Morrison and other CEO advisers joined him for a signing ceremony on an executive order on regulatory reform. “They’re helping us sort out what’s going on, because … it’s been disastrous for business. This is going to be a place for business to do well and to thrive.”
President Trump defended the white nationalists who protested in Charlottesville on Tuesday, saying they included “some very fine people,” while expressing sympathy for their demonstration against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It was a strikingly different message from the prepared statement he had delivered on Monday, and a reversion to his initial response over the weekend.
Speaking in the lobby of Trump Tower at what had been billed as a statement on infrastructure, a combative Trump defended his slowness to condemn white nationalists and neo-Nazis after the melee in central Virginia, which ended in the death of one woman and injuries to dozens of others, and compared the tearing down of Confederate monuments to the hypothetical removal of monuments to the Founding Fathers. He also said that counter-protesters deserve an equal amount of blame for the violence.
“What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, at the alt-right?” Trump said. “Do they have any semblance of guilt?”
“I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me,” he said.
“You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists,” Trump said. “The press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”
“You also had some very fine people on both sides,” he said.
The “Unite the Right” rally that sparked the violence in Charlottesville featured several leading names in the white-nationalist alt-right movement, and also attracted people displaying Nazi symbols. As they walked down the street, the white-nationalist protesters chanted “blood and soil,” the English translation of a Nazi slogan. One of the men seen marching with the fascist group American Vanguard, James A. Fields, is charged with deliberately ramming a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old counter-protester Heather Heyer.
Trump on Tuesday made an explicit comparison between Confederate generals and Founding Fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. “Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” Trump said. “This week, it is Robert E. Lee. And I notice that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
The substance of Trump’s unscripted remarks hewed more closely to his initial reaction to Charlottesville on Saturday, when he blamed “many sides” for what happened. On Monday, after two days of relentless criticism, Trump gave a stronger statement, saying “racism is evil” and specifically condemning white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, and neo-Nazis. Speaking to reporters shortly afterward, white nationalist Richard Spencer told reporters he didn’t see Trump’s remarks as a condemnation of his movement.
Tuesday’s appearance made it even clearer that those words had been forced on the president. Throughout his campaign, he was reluctant to disavow the white nationalists who have formed a vocal segment of his supporters. Asked if he had spoken to Heyer’s family in the days since her death, Trump said “we will be reaching out.”
Trump also addressed swirling rumors about the status of his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who has come in for another round of speculation this week that his job may be in danger. Trump is reportedly angry about the recent book Devil’s Bargain, by the Bloomberg Businessweek writer Joshua Green, which portrays Bannon as the key reason for Trump’s election victory.
The president defended Bannon as having been unfairly attacked as a racist in the press, but declined to say if he still has confidence in him.
“I like Mr. Bannon, he is a friend of mine,” Trump said. “But Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that. I like him. He is a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He is a good person. He actually gets very unfair press in that regard. We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon. But he is a good person, and I think the press treats him, frankly, very unfairly.”
The remarks echo what Trump told the New York Post earlier this year during a similar moment of uncertainty about Bannon’s position. “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump told the Post in April.
President Trump’s argument Tuesday that left wing groups were just as violent as the white supremacists who staged a demonstration in Charlottesville set off a firestorm of criticism from members of his own party – and raised questions about his personal views of racial tensions in the country.
Just one day after Trump sought to tamp down on controversy by condemning white supremacists for their role in racially motivated clashes in the Virginia city, the president appeared to return to his highly criticized initial response that many sides were to blame for the weekend violence.
“What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, alt-right?” Trump told reporters in a chaotic impromptu press conference at Trump Tower. “Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact they came charging with clubs in their hands?”
Trump said he couldn’t make a condemnation of hate groups earlier because he didn’t “know all the facts” about an alleged white nationalist who crashed a car into a crowd of protesters, killing one person and wounded 19 others.
“I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct,” Trump said from Trump Tower in New York, after an event that was intended to be devoted to a new infrastructure executive order.
Trump has been especially quick to denounce previous terrorist attacks, including those taking place overseas. Yet he was notably reticent to pinpoint the blame for one on Saturday that involved white supremacists – a point his critics on both sides of the aisle continued to hammer.
“We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. added: “There is only one side to be on when a white supremacist mob brutalizes and murders in America.”
Several lawmakers were dismayed the president appeared to equate white supremacists with their opponents. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., tweeted: “Blaming ‘both sides’ for #Charlottesville?! No. Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists? Just no.”
Another Republican, Rep. Charlie Dent from Pennsylvania, said Trump “must stop the moral equivalency! AGAIN.”
Over the weekend, Trump faced heavy criticism from both Republicans and Democrats for chiding “many sides” for their role in the violence in Charlottesville on Saturday, a statement many regarded as tepid toward racists.
Yet on Tuesday, amid questions about whether Trump meant the words behind his most recent scripted statement, the president called his initial response “fine” and blamed the press for being dishonest in its coverage.
“There was no way of making a correct statement that early,” he said at one point. “I had to see the facts. Unlike a lot of reporters – I didn’t know (prominent white supremacist) David Duke was there. I wanted to see the facts.”
Trump also said “not all of those people” who attended the demonstration were not racist or neo-Nazi, but only wanted to protest the city’s plans to remove the Robert E. Lee statue.
That statement also drew catcalls from Republicans. “If you’re showing up to a Klan rally, you’re probably a racist or a bigot,” said Rep. Will Hurd, R-Tex., said on CNN.
And Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted that “the organizers of events” that led to the Charlottesville terror attack “are 100% to blame.”
The white supremacists, Rubio tweeted, are “adherents of an evil ideology which argues certain people are inferior because of race, ethnicity or nation of origin…. When (there’s an) entire movement built on anger and hatred towards people different than you, it justifies and ultimately leads to violence against them.”
Rubio offered a direct message to Trump: “Mr. President, you can’t allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame… (they) will see being assigned only 50% of blame as a win. We can not allow this old evil to be resurrected.”
The president was slated to only discuss infrastructure during his appearances, but took questions from reporters for more than 15 minutes, most of them about Charlottesville. Some aides looked dismayed as he answered more questions.
During a rollicking, impromptu news conference in which Trump and reporters frequently argued and interrupted each other, the president also:
Questioned moves by local government to remove Confederate statues and monuments from public places
Trump openly wondered whether tributes to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are at risk because they were slave owners. “You really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” Trump said. On the other hand, Trump said local governments are free to make their own decisions on these issues.
Refused to say whether he thought the “alt-left” were as bad as the white supremacists who organized a demonstration in defense of the Robert E. Lee statue
“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” Trump said. While Trump said he condemned neo-Nazis, he said “not all of those people” at the rally were neo-Nazis or white supremacists “by any stretch.”
The Anti-Defamation League disputed Trump’s comments, tweeting that “comparisons between white supremacists & counter protesters are beyond the pale.”
Distanced himself from chief strategist Steve Bannon, whose role has been in the spotlight after the Charlottesville violence
Trump cast the former chief executive of his 2016 campaign as a late-comer to his cadre of advisers and expressed uncertainty about his fate at the White House. “Mr. Bannon came on very late,” Trump told reporters. “I like him, he’s a good man, he is not a racist, I can tell you that. But we’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.”
Refused to answer a question on why self-proclaimed Nazis say they support him
“They don’t,” Trump responded.
Said he had a plan to the nation’s racial divide
That plan involves creating more – and better – jobs.
“If you are still defending Donald Trump at this point, you are not a good person,” tweeted Jill Biden, the wife of former Vice President Joe Biden.
The news conference capped a day in which Trump returned to his residence in the gold-leaf comfort of Trump Tower for the first time since he took office in January – but it hasn’t been a particularly joyful homecoming.
Amid rush hour, after the rain, protestors returned to Fifth Avenue with bullhorns and placards in hand to protest Trump’s views of race, immigration, and other issues. “New York hates you,” read one sign. Police placed a protest area about a block-and-a-half from Trump Tower.
Trump huddled with staff and signed an executive order on infrastructure Tuesday – at a podium affixed with the presidential seal in front of the elevator bank – that did little to change the conversation.
The infrastructure announcement – intended to streamline the permitting process for infrastructure projects – is part of Trump’s ongoing effort to try and toll back federal regulations that he says undermine economic development. Many of the targeted regulations involve environmental restrictions.
Yet even as Trump heralded the order as a way to promote jobs, business leaders within his circle appeared to be more focused on the president’s response to Charlottesville.
So far, five senior leaders from president’s business council have stepped down amid criticism that Trump was too slow to directly condemn violence involving white supremacists.
After his press conference, another member of his council – Richard Trumka, president of the The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations – announced he would step down. “I cannot sit on a council for a President that tolerates bigotry and domestic terrorism; I resign, effective immediately,” tweeted Trumka.
Activists are continuing to pressure remaining members to follow suit.
“No adviser committed to the bipartisan American traditions of government can possibly believe he or she is being effective at this point,” tweeted Lawrence Summers, a former high-level economic adviser to Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Yet Trump has done little to stem the controversy. Hours after making a formal statement Monday denouncing those who perpetuate racially-motivated attacks, Trump returned Monday night to a usual line of criticism: the press. “Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied…truly bad people!”
Trump stirred up more Twitter trouble after that. In the leadup to his press conference Tuesday, he retweeted a prominent figure from the alt-right who pushed the “Pizzagate” and Seth Rich conspiracy theories, who questioned why there was no similar outrage over violence in Chicago.
He tweeted then retweeted and deleted a post that included the cartoon of a train – the “Trump train” running over a CNN reporter, an image that drew criticism in the wake of the deadly car ramming incident in Virginia.
Steady rain in midtown Manhattan kept away many protesters Tuesday – as did a heavy security perimeter that included a line of white sanitation trucks parked along Fifth Avenue, flanking the entrance to Trump Tower.
Trump is expected to return to his 17-day working vacation at his golf club in Beminster, N.J., on Wednesday.
Donald Trump backtracked against his statement a day ago and defended violent white supremacists, arguing people on the left, called the “alt-left”, are just as violent.
First, no-one uses the term “alt-left” except super-right-wing nutjobs like Sean Hannity and Richard Spencer, as a slur against everyone who isn’t their type of conservative.
Second, standing up to intolerance is not intolerance.
While there was a handful of a “anti-fascists” which use violent tactics were in attendance, most of the protesters at Charlottsville were peaceful protesters. The hours of videos at the rally absolutely proves this.
When the white supremacists arrived they were carrying shields, clubs, knives, and military-grade guns, and marched in military maneuvers as if they practiced for violent encounters.
Also, white supremacists killed a woman and critically injured over a dozen more when a car drove into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Still dealing with backlash over his initial response to the deadly white supremacist rally in Virginia over the weekend, President Donald Trump on Monday retweeted an alt-right activist who pushed bogus stories about “Pizzagate” and false theories that connected the Democratic National Committee to the death of one of its staffers.
Trump retweeted to his nearly 36 million followers a post by Jack Posobiec on Monday night that linked to a news article about violence in Chicago.
“Meanwhile: 39 shootings in Chicago this weekend, 9 deaths. No national media outrage. Why is that?” Posobiec tweeted.
The tweet was one of several from the president on Monday that appeared to highlight his frustration over the media’s coverage of him.
Posobiec, a staunch Trump supporter, livestreamed his reaction to the retweet news on Twitter and later thanked the president in a separate Twitter post.
Posobiec is a well-known alt-right voice who has pushed the false “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which accused Hillary Clinton loyalists of running a child sex-trafficking operation out of a Washington, D.C. pizza shop.
Just days after Trump was elected president, Posobiec livestreamed a visit to the pizza shop at the center of the theory to investigate, but was removed by police for videotaping a child’s birthday party there.
A man fired multiple shots into that same pizza shop about a month later, claiming he had driven from North Carolina to “investigate” the false claims of an alleged child sex ring at the shop. Edgar Maddison Welch was sentenced in June to four years in prison after pleading guilty to firearm and assault offenses in March.
Posobiec has also pushed false claims that the Democratic National Committee was responsible for the death of former staffer Seth Rich. A story published by Fox News in May that fueled the rumors surrounding Rich’s death was later retracted and has now become the subject of a lawsuit.
The retweet from Trump came just hours after the president made a second statement about the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday after he was criticized over the vagueness of his initial response.
Trump on Saturday said both sides were to blame for the violence that occurred at the rally, which left one dead and 19 injured after a car-ramming attack. Police arrested James Alex Fields, 20, and charged him with second-degree murder in the incident.
Trump later denounced neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan as “criminals and thugs” on Monday amid growing pressure from political leaders on both the right and left.