WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump on Tuesday gave a freewheeling, rambling and angry press conference to reporters at Trump Tower in New York. He had planned to talk about his executive order on infrastructure, but things quickly went off the rails, with Trump becoming frustrated and taking back his delayed denunciation of the white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups who incited Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Here are nine mind-boggling moments from the president’s remarks Tuesday.
Trump reverted to his original statement on the weekend’s violence, assigning blame to “many sides.”
Reporters asked Trump why he was slow to condemn the “alt-right,” or white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, after the Charlottesville protests left one woman dead.
“What about the alt-left?” Trump replied.
“You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” he said. “Nobody wants to say that. 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.”
Later, Trump continued to argue that “both sides” were responsible.
“I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides,” he said.
Trump’s response was a classic example of whataboutism. It essentially negated his remarks on Monday, in which he finally singled out the white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups directly responsible for the violence.
Trump falsely claimed that he likes to comment on a situation after receiving all of the facts.
“I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement,” he said in attempting to explain why he took two days to denounce neo-Nazis. “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. It is a very, very important process to me.”
“Before I make a statement, I need the facts. I don’t want to rush into a statement,” he continued.
Fact: This is demonstrably false. Trump regularly comments on terror attacks before information about them is publicly available, politicizing attacks or using them to jump to conclusions.
The president also has a history of lying and spreading unsupported conspiracy theories
“When I make a statement, I like to be correct,” he said Tuesday.
Trump defended some of the protesters as “fine people.”
In reiterating his “both sides” claim, Trump suggested that some of Saturday’s protesters were “fine people.”
“You had some very bad people in that group. You also had some very fine people on both sides,” he said.
He also tried to distance himself from the violence by emphasizing that not all of those in attendance were necessarily part of extremist groups.
“You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists,” he said. “The press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”
He boasted that his widely criticized response was “fine.”
Trump’s Saturday response blaming “both sides” for violence drew widespread criticism, even from members of his own party. On Tuesday, he defended his words.
“The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement,” he said, later adding that it was “excellent.”
He lamented the removal of Confederate monuments by conflating Confederate leaders with Founding Fathers.
“Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” he said, referring to the original rally that precipitated the weekend’s violence. “So this week, it’s Robert E. Lee. 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 know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
Later, he again brought up Washington and Jefferson, noting they were both slave owners.
“You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, to them, a very, very important statue, and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name,” he continued. “Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him. Good. Are we going to take down his statue? He was a major slave owner. Are we going to take down his statue?”
He would not call Saturday’s violence “terrorism.”
Trump dodged questions on whether the hate-filled carnage in Charlottesville constituted a form of terrorism.
“You can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want,” he said. “I would just call it as the fastest one to come up with a good verdict. That’s what I’d call it. There is a question. Is it murder? Is it terrorism? Then you get into legal semantics. The driver of the car is a murderer. What he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.”
But plenty of other people have affirmed that the violence was terrorism — including members of his own administration, like national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
“Of course it was terrorism,” McMaster said on Sunday.
He attacked the CEOs who have resigned from his manufacturing council.
Several CEOs serving on Trump’s manufacturing council, beginning with Merck CEO Ken Frazier, resigned this week in protest of Trump’s response to the Charlottesville violence.
But Trump admonished them and said that they quit “out of embarrassment” because their companies were manufacturing products outside the U.S.
“They are not taking their jobs seriously as it pertains to this country,” he said. “We want jobs, manufacturing in this country.”
“I have to tell you, some of the folks that will leave, they are leaving out of embarrassment, because they made their products outside,” he continued.
He dismissed rumors that chief strategist Steve Bannon is on his way out, by distancing himself from Bannon.
“Look, I like Mr. Bannon. He is a friend of mine,” Trump began.
But he then diminished Bannon’s role in his campaign and administration.
“Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that,” Trump said, before boasting about his GOP primary victories. “Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that.”
He went on to defend Bannon as “a good man” and “not a racist,” but still hinted that his top aide’s fate was uncertain.
“We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon,” Trump said.
When asked whether he would visit Charlottesville, Trump plugged his winery in Virginia.
Trump would not say whether he would visit Charlottesville to commemorate the attack and offer support to the community, as presidents often do in times of crisis and turmoil.
Instead, he bragged about his winery in Virginia.
“Charlottesville is a great place that’s been very badly hurt over the last couple of days,” he said. “I own, actually, one of the largest wineries in the United States. It is in Charlottesville.”