President Donald Trump’s infrastructure news conference flew off the rails Tuesday afternoon when he returned to his faults “on many sides” stance about the violence in Charlottesville over the weekend.
“There is blame on both sides. I have no doubt about it – and you don’t have any doubt about it either,” he bellowed to reporters during the gobsmacking Trump Tower presser, calling them dishonest. It was particularly stunning, coming about 24 hours after Trump delivered his Charlottesville statement do-over from a podium at the White House. In that speech, delivered after two days if withering criticism for his original statement about the violence, Trump condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacists for the Charlottesville violence, in which a white supremacist plowed his car into marchers, killing a woman, and two state troopers died in a helicopter crash while on duty.
Insisting he watched the footage “much more closely” than did the media, he described the protests as “a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was 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.”
“What about the alt-left?…Do they have any semblance of guilt? Let me ask you this. What about the fact they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs. Do they have any problems? I think they do. As far as I’m concerned that was a horrible, horrible day.
“Wait a minute – I’m not finished, Fake News,” Trump hissed, addressing CNN’s Jim Acosta as tried to shout out a question.
“You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, okay?” Trump continued, while some watching on cable news networks wondered who in the Trump Administration had overdosed on Stupid Pills and greenlit this news conference. Okay, we did, anyway.
“And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly,” Trump continued, tearing into the topic.
One reporter asked Trump, “Do you think the alt-left are the same as neo-Nazis?” Trump shot back, “Excuse me, I’ve condemned neo-Nazis….But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, not all white supremacists.” Some people were they “because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee,” Trump said, adding, “You’d report that if you were honest, which many of you are not.”
“Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So, this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I notice that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down. I wonder, is George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? Where does this stop?”
“George Washington was a slave owner. So will we take down a statue to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? You like him? He was a major slave owner.”
“You are changing history, changing culture,” Trump charged.
He acknowledged “the other group” also “had some fine people. But you also had some troublemakers” who, Trump noted, came dressed in black with “face masks and helmets and baseball bats.”
The solution to the country’s “frayed” race relations, Trump insisted is his plan to bring in “millions of jobs.” That is “going to have tremendous positive impact on race relations,” said the man who for years led the movement insisting President Barack Obama was not born in this country.
“What people want is jobs – great jobs with good pay,” Trump said, claiming he also has plans to “spend a lot of money on inner cities.”
To which point he asked several times if any reporter had an infrastructure question.
In response to which he got asked if he’s putting the alt-left and white supremacists “on the same moral plane.”
“What I’m saying is this: you had a group on one side and you had a group on the other and they came after each other with clubs and it was a horrible thing to watch.”
“You also had people that were very fine people on both sides,” he said.
While staunchly defending his faults-all-around position on the weekend’s violence, Trump declined to fully endorse his adviser Steve Bannon, about whom he took a question during the event. New York Times reported this week that Trump recently had dinner with Rupert Murdoch who advised him the former Breitbart top dog had to go.
“I like Mr. Bannon; he’s a friend of mine,” Trump said, while noting he came to the Trump campaign late in the game. “He’s a good man; he is not racist. He’s a good person; he gets very unfair press in that regard. We’ll see what happens.”
During Trump’s scorched-earth presser, his Chief of Staff was standing nearby:
As to how this thermonuclear press conference came to be, according to Acosta, aides had advised reporters staked out at Trump Tower that POTUS would make infrastructure statements, after which Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao would answer questions. Wrapped his infrastructure remarks, reporters began peppering Trump with Charlottesville questions – and then that happened.
Acosta speculated, 10 years from now, we will call this presser the “turning point in this presidency.”
“It’s difficult to imagine many Republicans rallying to the president’s side after he almost gave neo-Nazis and white supremacists a pass for what happened in Charlottesville over the weekend,” Acosta told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“As it sinks in, the worse it gets. It was that kind of a disaster.”