President Donald Trump’s initial failure to explicitly condemn white supremacists on Saturday resulted in hours of somewhat muddled messages from the White House, as officials attempted to justify and repeatedly clarify the president’s statement.
After violence erupted at a white nationalist and neo-Nazi protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, the president issued a brief statement on Saturday in which he decried the “display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides,” a reference to the counter-protesters gathered to oppose the white nationalists.
Many critics — including Republicans — slammed Trump for not explicitly calling out the white nationalists in Virginia, noting that one woman was killed when a car drove into a crowd of counter-protesters, and calling it a “terror attack.”
Trump’s statement sparked a chain of messages sent “on background” to reporters in which officials tried to explain the president’s vague statement, though none agreed to attach their names to the comments.
An hour after Trump’s press conference, the White House issued a clarifying statement to reporters noting that the president wanted to condemn violence by counter-protesters.
White House officials offered similar statements at different points Saturday evening to multiple reporters, including Vanity Fair’s Gabe Sherman and Pro Publica’s Ken Schwencke.
When I asked senior WH official why Trump didn’t condemn Cville Nazis, he said: “What about the leftist mob. Just as violent if not more so”
— Gabriel Sherman (@gabrielsherman) August 13, 2017
For their part, some high-profile figures in the White House issued more forceful denunciations.
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster declared the car attack in Charlottesville an act of terrorism, while Ivanka Trump wrote on Twitter that “there should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazis.”
Late Sunday morning, the White House finally clarified that the president broadly condemns the acts of white nationalists. But the communications shop — which initially issued the comment with a spelling error — still chose to keep the statement anonymous.
“The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred, and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups,” an administration figure said in the statement.
“He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”
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