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Defiant Trump Again Blames Both Sides  08/16 06:12

   NEW YORK (AP) -- President Donald Trump defiantly blamed "both sides" for 
the weekend violence between white supremacists and counter-demonstrators in 
Virginia, seeking to rebuff the widespread criticism of his handling of the 
emotionally-charged protests while showing sympathy for the fringe group's 
efforts to preserve Confederate monuments.

   In doing so, Trump used the bullhorn of the presidency to give voice to the 
grievances of white nationalists, and aired some of his own. His remarks 
Tuesday amounted to a rejection of the Republicans, business leaders and White 
House advisers who earlier this week had pushed the president to more 
forcefully and specifically condemn the KKK members, neo-Nazis and white 
supremacists who took to the streets of Charlottesville.

   The angry exchange with reporters at  his skyscraper hotel in New York City 
laid bare a reality of the Trump presidency: Trump cannot be managed by others 
or steered away from damaging political land mines. His top aides were stunned 
by his comments, with some --- including new chief of staff John Kelly --- 
standing by helplessly as the president escalated his rhetoric.

   Standing in the lobby of Trump Tower, Trump acknowledged that there were 
"some very bad people" among those who gathered to protest Saturday. But he 
added: "You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides."

   The rally was organized by white supremacists and other groups under a 
"Unite the Right" banner. Organizers said they were initially activated by 
their objections to the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, 
but the larger aim was to protest what they saw as an "anti-white" climate in 
America.

   In his remarks, Trump condemned bigoted ideology and called James Alex 
Fields Jr., who drove his car into a crowd of counter-protester killing a 
32-year-old woman, "a disgrace to himself, his family and his country." But 
Trump also expressed support for those seeking to maintain the monument to Lee, 
equating him with some of the nation's founders who also owned slaves.

   "So, this week it's Robert E. Lee," he said. "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 really do have to ask yourself, where 
does it stop?"

   He continued: "You're changing history. You're changing culture."

   The president's comments effectively wiped away the more conventional 
statement he delivered at the White House a day earlier when he branded the 
white supremacists who take part in violence as "criminals and thugs." Trump's 
advisers had hoped those remarks might quell criticism of his initial response, 
but the president's retorts Tuesday suggested he had been a reluctant 
participant in that cleanup effort.

   Once again, the blowback was swift, including from fellow Republicans. Sen. 
Marco Rubio of Florida said Trump should not allow white supremacists "to share 
only part of the blame." House Speaker Paul Ryan declared in a tweet that 
"white supremacy is repulsive" and there should be "no moral ambiguity," though 
he did not specifically address the president.

   Trump's 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."

   Some of the president's comments Tuesday mirrored rhetoric from the 
far-right fringe. A post Monday by the publisher of The Daily Stormer, a 
notorious neo-Nazi website, predicted that protesters are going to demand that 
the Washington Monument be torn down.

   Trump's handling of the weekend violence has raised new and troubling 
questions, even among some supporters. Members of his own Republican Party have 
pressured him to be more vigorous in criticizing bigoted groups, and business 
leaders have begun abandoning a White House jobs panel in response to his 
comments.

   White House officials were caught off guard by his remarks Tuesday. He had 
signed off on a plan to ignore questions from journalists during an event 
touting infrastructure policies, according to a White House official not 
authorized to speak publicly about a private discussion. Once behind the 
lectern and facing the cameras, he overruled the decision.

   As Trump talked, his aides on the sidelines in 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.

   Kelly was brought into the White House less than a month ago to try to bring 
order and stability to a chaotic West Wing. Some Trump allies hoped the retired 
Marine general might be able to succeed where others have failed: controlling 
some of Trump's impulses. But the remarks Tuesday once again underscored 
Trump's insistence on airing his complaints and opinions.

   Democrats were aghast at Trump's comments. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine said on 
Twitter that the Charlottesville violence "was fueled by one side: white 
supremacists spreading racism, intolerance & intimidation. Those are the 
facts." Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii said on Twitter that he no longer views 
Trump as his president.

   "As a Jew, as an American, as a human, words cannot express my disgust and 
disappointment," Schatz said. "This is not my president."

   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, who has quickly deemed other deadly incidents in the U.S. and around 
the world as acts of terrorism, waffled when asked whether the car death was a 
terrorist attack.

   "There is a question. Is it murder? Is it terrorism?" Trump said. "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."

   Trump said he had yet to call the mother of crash victim Heather Heyer, but 
would soon "reach out." He praised her for what he said was a nice statement 
about him on social media.

   As he finally walked away from his lectern, he stopped to answer one more 
shouted question: Would he visit Charlottesville? The president noted he owned 
property there and said --- inaccurately --- that it was one of the largest 
wineries in the United States.


(KA)

 
 
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