President Trump Blames Both Sides For Charlottesville Violence

Aug 15, 2017
Originally published on August 15, 2017 2:49 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Trump is defending his response to the violent weekend protests in Charlottesville, Va. Trump has been criticized for waiting two days before explicitly calling out the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Klan members who were at the center of the violence. Trump took questions from reporters about that tardy response today at Trump Tower, and NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now with more on that. Hiya.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Robert.

SIEGEL: What did the president say about why he waited so long?

HORSLEY: You know, that's been the big puzzle because this is not a person for whom caution is usually his watchword. But the president told reporters today that he didn't want to rush to judgment in this instance.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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. You still don't know the facts.

HORSLEY: Now, Trump has not always taken that approach in reacting, for example, to cases of suspected Islamic terrorism.

SIEGEL: On Saturday, the president spoke about hatred on all sides, as opposed to singling out the Klan or the neo-Nazis. And he seemed to go back to that position this afternoon.

HORSLEY: That's right. He said that there were violent actors on both sides of the dividing line, both among the protesters and the counter-protesters. And he also said that, you know, the - not - on the side that was - he ultimately did criticize those neo-Nazis and Klansmen and white supremacists, but he said that description didn't fit everyone who was taking part in these demonstrations.

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TRUMP: Not all of those people were neo-Nazis. Believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.

HORSLEY: He went on to say that some of the demonstrators were there to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee. And he seemed to express sympathy for that feeling. He said, look, Robert Lee now, what about a statue of Thomas Jefferson or a George Washington? He said those were also slave owners. Where does this stop?

SIEGEL: Of course, slave owners but not members of the secession and not part of the Confederacy. There's been more fallout in the business community as people react to Trump's comments. What's the president saying about that?

HORSLEY: That's right. We've now had several people leaving the president's manufacturing council, the advisory council at the White House, to sort of protest the president's reaction to this. Today, he went on the offensive. He was asked by reporters what he thinks of those business people leaving the advisory council. And he said, it's really not about what happened in Charlottesville.

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TRUMP: Some of the folks that will leave, they're leaving out of embarrassment because they make their products outside. And I've been lecturing them, including the gentleman that you're referring to, about you have to bring it back to this country.

HORSLEY: The president also talked, as he does often, about manufacturing jobs that he says are coming back to this country. And ultimately, he said, he thinks those improvements in the economy - the growth in jobs, the growth in wages - will improve race relations in this country. We should add, though, that so far, the job creation on President Trump's watch is really just very much in line with what we were seeing, say, a year ago. There hasn't been some upswing in job growth in this country.

SIEGEL: And, Scott, just to go back to Charlottesville for a moment. The first statement didn't single out the alt-rightists who were in Charlottesville, it said there was hatred on all sides. Then there was the statement - white supremacists, Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, we despise them all. Now, it seems we're back to where we were originally. That's the net result.

HORSLEY: We've sort of - this is one of those news conferences that's not going to settle the questions, it's just going to bring more questions and probably more division over the president's reaction.

SIEGEL: Scott Horsley, thanks.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.