During a fiery, improvized press conference that was supposed to address Trump's infrastructure proposal but quickly veered into an angry back and forth between President Trump and the media over Saturday's tragic events in Virignia, Donald Trump defended his initial response to the weekend violence in Charlottesville, saying he needed to "know the facts" before specifically calling out racist groups, and stating that there was “blame on both sides” for the violent clashes that erupted in Charlottesville over the weekend.
“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,” the president said. He added: “You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit. They were very violent.”
Claiming he needed more information, Trump said “I didn't wait long” to condemn the violence, saying “I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement."
He then said that "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 fact. It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don't know the facts. And it's a very, very important process to me. And it's a very important statement. So I don't want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts.”
This was Trump's third attempt in the last four days to address the controversy over his initial reaction blaming “many sides” for the violence, drawing bipartisan condemnation.
On Saturday, Trump originally blamed Saturday blamed "many sides" for their role in the violence, and came under fierce criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for not being more specific in condemning the white supremacist and Nazi groups that had come to Charlottesville to rally. On Monday, Trump made an official condemnation of the KKK, White Supremacists and Nazis, even as appeared to double down on his original statement on Tuesday afternoon, saying there is “blame on both sides” and added "you had some very bad people in that group but you also had some very fine people."
“What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right?,” Trump asked. “Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do. As far as I am concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day.”
“I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane. You had one group on one side, and you had a group on the other side,” Trump said. Observing the clashes that took place on Saturday morning, Trump added that liberal counter-protesters which included antifa protesters “violently attacked the other group.”
“I will tell you something. I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it,” Trump said. "And 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 on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent.”
As discussed yesterday, on Monday Trump specifically called out neo-Nazis and the KKK and condemned racism, but his critics have said he should have done so immediately and that he didn’t because he didn’t want to alienate extremist elements of his base. On Tuesday, the president said that the groups protesting against white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, were "also very violent" calling them "alt left."
Pres. Trump on Charlottesville: "There's blame on both sides...you also had people that were very fine people on both sides." pic.twitter.com/ayX9eHABsN— ABC News (@ABC) August 15, 2017
When asked by a reporter if Trump believes white supremacists were treated unfairly, the president responded “you had a lot of people in that group who were there to innocently protest and very legally protest. I don't know if you know. They had a permit. The other group didn't have a permit. So I only tell you have. There are two sides to a story.”
Trump also said race relations in the country “have been frayed for a long time” adding “you can ask President Obama about that. He made speeches about it.”
Trump also claimed that not all of the white nationalists protesting were racists. Some, Trump said, had gathered to protest the taking down of a Confederate statue. “I have condemned neo-Nazis. I have condemned many different groups, but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me,” Trump said. “Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest taking down of a statue Robert E. Lee.”
Trump also said White House strategist Steve Bannon, who has been speculated to be on the chopping block after this weekend's violent events, is “a good person. But we’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon” Trump added that press treats Bannon “poorly,” and he’s not a racist. "I like Steve Bannon, he’s a friend of mine, but Mr. Bannon came on very late” to his campaign.... I never spoke to Mr. Bannon about it,” in reference to his statement about violence in Charlottesville, Va.
Launching into yet another fiery exchange, Trump then slammed at the process of tearing down monuments and defended those protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Va. last week, asking rhetorically "George Washington was a slave owner... Are we gonna take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson?"
President Trump: "George Washington was a slave owner... Are we gonna take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson?" pic.twitter.com/bUJnbaniwL— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 15, 2017
Speaking of the protesters, Trump said “they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee", then proceeding to equate the confederate general to presidents Washington and Jefferson: “This week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself where does it stop.”
Following of the attacks, several cities said they would remove statues of Confederate soldiers and leaders. Protesters have also started fighting to tear down such statues, including the statue of "Stonewall" Jackson in Charleston, W.V. Demonstrators tore down a Confederate statue on Monday night.
He followed up by saying "You're changing history, you're changing culture"
Trump: "You're changing history, you're changing culture" pic.twitter.com/37tb0rGNLA— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) August 15, 2017
On Monday, Trump said at the White House that “Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans."
Full press conference below, the Q&A begins 20 minutes in: