NEW YORK — President Donald Trump, in a staggering, impromptu press conference in New York on Tuesday, blamed the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend on both sides of the conflict — equating the white supremacists on one side with the “alt-left” on the other side — after his top White House aides spent days trying to clean up after Trump’s initial vague response to the violence.
“I think there is blame on both sides,” Trump said during a contentious back-and-forth with reporters in the lobby of his Midtown Manhattan building.
“What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right,’ do they have any semblance of guilt?” Trump asked. “What about the fact they came charging with clubs in hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do.”
He added: “You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now.”
On Saturday, as violence in Charlottesville played out on national television, Trump blamed “many sides” for the conflict. Though that answer was quickly panned by Democrats and Republicans alike, Trump remained silent on Sunday, leaving it to his aides to try to clean up his vague answer. Trump, after mounting pressure that was palpable inside the White House, spoke Monday condemned the white supremacists and neo-Nazis at the heart of the violence.
On Tuesday, though, Trump defended his 48-hour delay in denouncing white supremacists, arguing that he took his time because he didn’t know the facts.
“I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement,” Trump said, calling his initial comment a “fine statement.”
He added: “I don’t want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement.”
The President subsequently called the driver of the car that drove through a crowd, killing one woman, a “murderer” then once again blamed both sides for the violence.
“You can call it terrorism, you can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want,” he said. “The driver of the car is a murderer and what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.”
“I didn’t wait long. I didn’t wait long. I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement,” Trump said Tuesday. “The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement, but you don’t make statements that direct until you know the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don’t know the facts and it is a very, very important process to me. It is a very important statement.”
A senior White House official says chief of staff John Kelly and other top advisers hoped the President would turn a corner Tuesday and talk about infrastructure, but concedes they were entirely wrong.
“That was all him — this wasn’t our plan,” the official said, speaking confidentially about internal deliberations.
The President has been fuming in closed-door meetings about what he sees as unfair coverage.
State democrats respond
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said, “Today, President Trump shamefully reversed his previous condemnation of the violent white supremacists in Charlottesville over the weekend,” said DeLauro. “His remarks reflect a moral failure, and degrade the office of the Presidency. There is no room for ambiguity when it comes to bigotry. There are not ‘many sides’ to blame when one side subscribes to an ideology rooted in hatred and viciousness, ” continued DeLauro. “Peaceful protesters do not march with torches, shout racial and anti-gay epithets, and hurt and kill people with their cars. These actions are meant to intimidate and silence those with whom they disagree, plain and simple.
Connecticut Democratic Party Chairman Nick Balletto said, “Justice, diversity and inclusion are central to the state of Connecticut, and Democrats will fight every day to preserve and protect those values. Yet, on issue after issue, Connecticut Republicans have fallen in line with Trump. Now more than ever we need our GOP colleagues to speak out not only in support of equality, but to hold the president to account for his words and actions. Connecticut Republicans can no longer benefit from Trump when it’s politically convenient, but cower and hide when when he does something shameful. That’s not leadership, and Connecticut residents deserve better. Lets be very clear, staying silent or deflecting blame is not just bad politics in Connecticut; it is a fundamental failure of leadership and commitment to advancing the interests of all of the residents of our state.”
Removing Confederate statues
Trump also warned against nationwide attempts to remove statues to Confederate leaders, arguing that attempts to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee could lead to attempts to remove monuments honoring former Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
“You are changing history, you are changing culture” by taking down statues to past leaders, he said.
Trump said there were some “very bad people” on both sides, but that there was some who came out to protest the removal of Robert E. Lee’s statue who were “fine people.”
“You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, to them, of a very, very important statue and a renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name,” Trump said.
Pressed by reporters, Trump raised Washington and Jefferson, arguing there could be a slippery slope.
“George Washington was a slave owner. So will George Washington lose his status? Are we going to take down statues to George Washington?” he said. “How about Thomas Jefferson, what do you think of Thomas Jefferson, do you like him? OK good. Are we going to take down the statues, because he was a major slave owner? Now are we going to take down his statue?”
He added: “You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
Trump’s slippery slope argument is straight out of the ‘alt-right’ playbook.
Corey Stewart, an ‘alt-right’ leader and the former Republican gubernatorial candidate turned Senate candidate in Virginia, tweeted in response to Trump on Tuesday, “They won’t stop until all of American history is erased.”
Touts winery in Virginia
After leaving the podium, Trump was asked whether he planned to go to Charlottesville. His response, “Does anyone know I own a house in Charlottesville?”
Trump was referring to his winery in the city.
“I mean I know a lot about Charlottesville,” he said. “Charlottesville is a great place that has been very badly hurt over the last couple of days.”
He added: “I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States, it is in Charlottesville.”
Here are Trump’s 14 most inflammatory and bizarre statements.
1. On why he waited two days to denounce the racist groups
“I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement. The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement. But you don’t make statements that direct unless you know the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts. … I want to know the facts.”
2. On whether the attack that killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville was ‘terrorism’
“You can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want. I would just call it as the fastest one to come up with a good verdict. That’s what I’d call it. Because there is a question. Is it murder? Is it terrorism? And then you get into legal semantics. The driver of the car is a murderer. And what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.”
3. On whether he has confidence in White House chief strategist Steve Bannon
“He’s a friend of mine. 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, and I like him. He’s a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He’s a good person. He actually gets a very unfair press in that regard.”
4. When asked about the ‘alt-right’s’ influence in Charlottesville
“What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging them? Excuse me. What about the alt-left that came charging at the — as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? … Let me ask you this. What about the fact they came charging — that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.”
5. On how he viewed the weekend violence and who was responsible
“I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it. And you have — you had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent, and nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group — you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent.”
6. Defending the ‘Unite the Right’ demonstrators against accusations of racism
“Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.”
7. Echoing the right-wing argument against removing Confederate monuments
“So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you all — you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
8. On whether he was comparing counter-protesters and white supremacists
“You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible. And it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You’ve just called them the left — that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.”
9. On who was to blame for the violence
“Well, I do think there’s blame — yes, I think there’s blame on both sides. You look at — you look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either. … But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. … You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.”
10. On Thomas Jefferson
“Are we going to take down the statue (of Jefferson)? Because he was a major slave owner. Now, are we going to take down his statue? So you know what? It’s fine. You’re changing history. You’re changing culture. And you had people, and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists.”
11. Comparing George Washington to Robert E. Lee
“George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So, will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down — excuse me — are we going to take down — are we going to take down statues to George Washington?”
12. On the media coverage of the ‘Unite the Right’ rally
“And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people, but you also had troublemakers and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You’ve got — you had a lot of bad — you had a lot of bad people in the other group.”
13. After being asked if he’s spoken to the family of Heather Heyer
“I’ll be reaching out. … I was very — I thought that the statement put out — the mother’s statement I thought was a beautiful statement. I must tell you, I was — it was something that I really appreciated. I thought it was terrific. And really, under the — under the kind of stress that she’s under and the heartache that she’s under, I thought putting out that statement to me was really something I won’t forget.”
14. On Charlottesville
“I mean I know a lot about Charlottesville. Charlottesville is a great place that has been very badly hurt over the last couple of days. I own, actually, one of the largest wineries in the United States — it’s in Charlottesville.”
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