A combative President Donald Trump insisted Tuesday “there is blame on both sides” for the deadly violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, appearing to once again equate the actions of white supremacist groups and those protesting them.
The president’s comments effectively wiped away the more conventional statement he delivered at the White House one day earlier when he branded members of the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who take part in violence as “criminals and thugs.” Trump’s advisers had hoped those remarks might quell a crush of criticism from Republicans and Democrats.
The president’s retorts Tuesday suggested he had been a reluctant participant in that cleanup effort. During an impromptu press conference in the lobby of his Manhattan skyscraper, he praised his original response to Charlottesville and angrily blamed liberal groups in addition to white supremacists for the violence. Some of those protesting at the rally to save a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee were “also very violent,” he said.
“There are two sides to a story,” he said. He added that some facts about the violence still aren’t known.
His remarks were welcomed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who tweeted: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth.”
As Trump talked, his aides on the sidelines of the lobby stood in silence. Chief of staff John Kelly crossed his arms and stared down at his shoes, barely glancing at the president. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders looked around the room trying to make eye contact with other senior aides. One young staffer stood with her mouth agape.
When asked to explain his Saturday comments about Charlottesville, Trump looked down at his notes and again read a section of his initial statement that denounced bigotry but did not single out white supremacists. He then tucked the paper back into his jacket pocket.
Trump said he had yet to call the mother of the woman killed when a car plowed into a group of anti-racist counter-protesters but said that he would soon “reach out.” He praised her for what he said was a nice statement about him on social media.
As Trump finally walked away from his lectern, he stopped to answer one more shouted question: Would he plan to visit Charlottesville, the college town ravaged by the hate-filled clashes? The president’s response was to note that he owned property there and to say it was one of the largest wineries in the United States.