White House doubles down on Trump's Charlottesville comments, ignores calls to directly confront white supremacy


“What the president did is he called out anyone, anyone who is responsible for fomenting this kind of bigotry, hatred, racism and violence,” national security adviser H.R. McMaster said on ABC’s “This Week.” (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — Two of President Trump’s top advisers on Sunday defended his decision not to specifically call out and condemn the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who gathered in Charlottesville this weekend and violently clashed with those who opposed their message.

In interviews on Sunday morning news shows, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and homeland security adviser Tom Bossert echoed the vague comments that the president made in a statement at his private golf club in New Jersey on Saturday, signaling that Trump does not plan to heed calls from fellow Republicans to bluntly confront and condemn white supremacy.

“What the president did is he called out anyone, anyone who is responsible for fomenting this kind of bigotry, hatred, racism and violence,” McMaster said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday morning. “I think the president was very clear on that.”

When asked whether this was an act of domestic terrorism, McMaster said, “Anytime that you commit an attack against people to incite fear, it is terrorism.”

On CNN, Bossert repeatedly praised the president for not naming the groups that were involved and instead focusing on an overarching call for Americans to love one another. He said that people “on both sides” showed up in Charlottesville “looking for trouble” and that he won’t assign blame for the death of a counterprotester on either group, although he said the president would like to see “swift justice” for the victim. After repeated questioning, Bossert did say that he personally condemns “white supremacists and Nazi groups that espouse this sort of terrorism and exclusion.” He did not say whether the president agrees with him on that.

“The president not only condemned the violence and stood up at a time and a moment when calm was necessary and didn’t dignify the names of these groups of people, but rather addressed the fundamental issue,” Bossert said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And so … what you need to focus on is the rest of his statement.”

Bossert repeatedly questioned host Jake Tapper on why he was even asking these questions, at one point saying: “I guess you’re going to continue to press on the words he didn’t say, but I’d like you to focus for just a moment on the rest of the statement that he did say.”

While Bossert acknowledged that white supremacy is a problem in the country, he quickly shifted to talking about the greater threat of “a global jihadi terrorist problem.” This is a common tactic used by the Trump administration, which considered refocusing the government’s Countering Violent Extremism program on Islamist groups, not white supremacists, and has proposed slashing funding for the program. A recent study found that between 2008 and 2016, the number of designated terrorist attacks on U.S. soil carried out by right-wing extremist groups, including white supremacists, outnumbered those carried out by Islamists by 2 to 1.

In his statement, Trump said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” He then added for emphasis: “On many sides.”

Numerous Republicans and Democrats have criticized the usually blunt-speaking president for reacting to the violence and racism in Charlottesville in such vague terms, for placing equal blame on the counterprotesters and for not specifically condemning the white supremacists involved.

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) urged the president to use the words “white supremacists” and to label what happened Saturday as a terrorist attack. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) declared that “white supremacy is a scourge” that “must be confronted and defeated.” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) tweeted, “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”

Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer (D) has directly blamed Trump for the explosion of hate in his city this weekend, and he continued to do so Sunday in an interview with CNN. He accused Trump of intentionally courting white supremacists, nationalists and anti-Semitic groups on the campaign trail, and he criticized the president for not condemning these groups.

“This is not hard. There’s two words that need to be said over and over again: domestic terrorism and white supremacy,” Signer said. “That is exactly what we saw on display this weekend, and we just aren’t seeing leadership from the White House.”

Gardner also appeared on “State of the Union” on Sunday and urged the president to speak out directly on the issue today and “call this white supremacism, white nationalism evil.” He said the president should do so with the same kind of conviction that he has had in “naming terrorism around the globe as evil.” Gardner declined to theorize on why Trump is so hesitant to speak up in specific terms.

“This is not a time for vagaries, this isn’t a time for innuendo or to allow room to be read between the lines, this is a time to lay blame,” Gardner said.

The senator added that Trump should not fear any political blowback for doing so.

“They’re not a part of anybody’s base, they’re not a part of this country,” he said. “Call it for what it is. It’s hatred, it’s bigotry. We don’t want them in our base, they shouldn’t be in a base, we shouldn’t call them part of a base.”

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said on “Fox News Sunday” that Trump needs to “correct the record here.”

“These groups seem to believe they have a friend in Donald Trump in the White House, and I would urge the president to dissuade that,” Graham said.

Members of the president’s own administration and some of his close allies also are breaking with his messaging. Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, took to Twitter on Sunday morning to write two short messages: “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis,” and “We must all come together as Americans — and be one country UNITED. #Charlottesville.”

Anthony Scaramucci, the president’s former communications director, said on ABC’s “This Week” that he would not have recommended that the president say what he did Saturday.

“I think he needed to be much harsher as it related to the white supremacists and the nature of that,” said Scaramucci, whose White House stint lasted only 10 days.

He later added that it’s difficult for White House aides to change the president and his way of thinking, but that those around him need to give “direct advice, to be blunt with him.”

“He likes doing the opposite of what the media thinks he’s gonna do,” Scaramucci said. “I think he’s also of the impression that there’s hatred on all sides, but I disagree with it.”

Scaramucci said Trump “has to move away from that sort of Bannon-bart nonsense” and “move more to the mainstream” way of thinking that is embraced by most moderate Republicans and independents.

Demirjian reported from Washington. John Wagner and Janell Ross in Washington contributed to this report. 

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Trump condemns Charlottesville violence but doesn’t single out white nationalists

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BEDMINSTER, N.J. — President Trump is often quick to respond to terrorizing acts of violence.

As news broke of a terrorist attack in Paris in November 2015, Trump immediately tweeted that he was praying for “the victims and hostages.” Very soon after a shooting at an Orlando nightclub in June 2016, Trump tweeted that he was “right on radical Islamic terrorism.”

But he kept quiet Saturday morning as a protest led by white nationalists, who arrived with torches and chants in Charlottesville, on Friday night, turned violent. The cable networks that he usually watches showed footage of increasingly violent clashes between the white nationalists, some of whom looked like soldiers because they were so heavily armed, and the counterprotesters who showed up to challenge them.

He kept quiet as David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, declared that the scene in Charlottesville is a “turning point” for a movement that aims to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.”

[One dead and 19 injured as car strikes crowds along route of white nationalist rally in Charlottesville]

The president kept quiet as Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) declared a state of emergency — and as Trump’s own wife responded, writing in a tweet that “no good comes from violence.”

Cable news commentary, Twitter and the inboxes of White House spokesmen quickly filled with this question: Where is the president?

Then, at 1:19 p.m. in New Jersey, Trump took a break from his working vacation at his private golf club to tweet: “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”

Trump has long tiptoed around the issue of white supremacy and has yet to provide a full-throttled rebuke of those who invoke his name. He had to be repeatedly pushed to denounce Duke after the former KKK leader endorsed him and praised him.

Trump’s candidacy excited many white nationalists, who were thrilled to hear Trump mock the Black Lives Matter movement on the campaign trail and declare that “all lives matter.” They rallied behind his promises to build a wall on the southern border, reduce the number of foreigners allowed into the country and pressure everyone in the country to speak English and say “Merry Christmas.” And they celebrated Trump selecting Stephen K. Bannon as his chief strategist, who formerly ran the right-wing Breitbart News and advocated for what he calls the “alt-right” movement.

About two hours after the president’s tweet, Trump expanded with four-minute statement that began: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” He then added for emphasis: “On many sides.”

[Photos: Tensions rise as white nationalists hold a rally in Charlottesville, Va.]

When asked what the president meant by “on many sides,” a White House spokesperson responded: “The President was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counterprotesters today.” When pressed on what exactly the president saw or heard from the counterprotesters that was bigoted or hateful, the spokesman did not respond. Later in the evening, Trump praised law enforcement officers at the protest and offered his condolences to a victim.

Trump never used the words “white supremacy” or “white nationalism.” He didn’t detail what acts or words he considers to be hateful or bigoted. He didn’t mention the vehicle that had driven into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville — a tactic that has been repeatedly used by Islamic State terrorists. He scolded both sides and treated their offenses as being equal. He was vague enough that his statement could be interpreted in a number of different ways.

“Did Trump just denounce antifa?” tweeted Richard Spencer, who helped organize the protest in Charlottesville, using a term short for “anti-fascist” to describe violent liberal protesters.

But many other Americans wanted their president to crystal-clear when it comes to white supremacy and what they were witnessing in Charlottesville. The president’s tweet and statement were quickly questioned and protested.

“There is only one side,” tweeted former vice president Joe Biden.

Other Republicans took a different approach.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R), whose daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is Trump’s press secretary, tweeted: “ ‘White supremacy’ crap is worst kind of racism-it’s EVIL and perversion of God’s truth to ever think our Creator values some above others .”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) both urged the president to use the words “white supremacists” and to label this as a terror attack.

And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) tweeted: “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”

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Beyond North Korea, here are eight other things Trump told reporters on Friday


President Donald Trump, flanked by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, speaks to reporters after their meeting at Trump’s golf estate in Bedminster, N.J.(Jonathan Ernst/Reuter)

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — As President Trump continued to aggressively threaten North Korea on Friday, he made a smattering of other comments to reporters on issues ranging from U.S. diplomats getting kicked out of Russia to the deepening crisis in Venezuela to whether Vice President Pence would run for president in 2020.

Here’s a quick rundown of them:

1) Trump said he was just joking when he thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for kicking out U.S. diplomats. A day earlier, Trump was asked by reporters about Putin expelling 775 U.S. diplomatic and technical staff members from Russia in retaliation for sanctions levied against his country. Trump responded: “I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned I’m very thankful that he let go a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll.” He didn’t crack a smile, but White House aides insisted the president was joking. As Trump took questions from reporters at his private golf club Friday evening, he confirmed that he was “absolutely” kidding. He added that he plans to respond to Russia’s action by Sept. 1.

2) He suggested U.S. military involvement in Venezuela. Trump told reporters that he is “not going to rule out a military option” to confront the autocratic government of Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro and the deepening crisis in the South American country.

“We’re all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering, and they’re dying,” Trump said. “We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.”

When asked by a reporter whether this military option would be led by the United States, Trump responded: “We don’t talk about it, but a military operation, a military option is certainly something that we could pursue.”

3) He dismissed the possibility that Pence would mount a separate campaign for president in 2020. Talk about the possibility of a Pence campaign has been percolating since last weekend, when the New York Times ran a story about several Republicans running “shadow campaigns” in anticipation of the possibility that Trump might not seek reelection or would be weak enough to draw a credible GOP challenger. Pence — who has been courting Republican donors and hitting far more political events than Trump — strongly denounced the report, professing his loyalty to the president.

“He’s been terrific,” Trump said of Pence, “he’s been a great ally of mine.”

4) Trump kept bashing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), despite warnings from other Republicans that the sparring could hurt his agenda on Capitol Hill. “I don’t make anything of it,” Trump said when asked what he thought about other Senate Republicans coming to McConnell’s defense. “We should have had health care approved. … And not only didn’t it happen, it was a surprise and a horrible surprise. It was very unfair to the Republican Party and it was very unfair to the people of this country, so I was not impressed.”

“Now, can he do good? I think so,” Trump said, ticking off other priorities, including tax cuts and infrastructure spending.

5) He is still hoping for health-care reform, despite its dramatic failure in the Senate. “Things will happen with respect to health care,” he said. “And I think things will happen maybe outside of necessarily needing Congress, because there are things that I could do as president that will have a huge impact on health care, so you watch.”

6) He is still evaluating the U.S. role in Afghanistan. When asked by a reporter whether he has the right generals positioned in Afghanistan right now, Trump said that he is “going to make a determination … in a very short period of time.”

7) Trump is loving his new chief of staff, John F. Kelly, a retired Marine general.  He told reporters that Kelly “has done a fantastic job” and is “a respected person, respected by everybody.” While Trump’s previous chief of staff, Reince Priebus, was given the nickname “Reince-y,” the president said that he has dubbed Kelly “Chief.”

“Chief. I call him, ‘Chief.’ He’s a respected man,” Trump said. “He’s a four-star from the Marines and he carries himself like a four-star from the Marines, and he’s my friend — which is very important.”

8) He’s excited to return home to Trump Tower on Sunday for the first time since becoming president. Trump acknowledged that his visit was sure to snarl traffic, shut down major roads and annoy his fellow New Yorkers, but he’s going anyway. He added that he will travel to the District on Monday for “a very important meeting” and “a pretty big press conference,” but he wouldn’t reveal any more details.

Wagner reported from Washington.

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Trump won't 'rule out a military option' in Venezuela

President Trump spoke about Venezuela after meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley in Bedminster, N.J. on Aug. 11. (The Washington Post)

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Trump said Friday that he is “not going to rule out a military option” to confront the autocratic government of Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro and the deepening crisis in the South American country.

“They have many options for Venezuela — and, by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option,” Trump told reporters at his private golf club in New Jersey on Friday evening. “…We’re all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering, and they’re dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.”

When asked by a reporter whether this military option would be led by the United States, Trump responded: “We don’t talk about it, but a military operation, a military option is certainly something that we could pursue.”

Venezuela is edging toward the economic brink after an internationally condemned election last month created an all-powerful legislature loyal to Maduro. The government is sharply intensifying its crackdown on dissent, issuing arrest warrants for rebellious mayors, targeting unfriendly politicians and menacing average citizens who speak their minds.

Since the July 30 vote, the value of the local currency, the bolívar, has fluctuated more wildly than ever, a significant feat for a country saddled with the world’s highest inflation rate. As a result, street prices for staples such as bread and tomatoes have doubled in less than two weeks. New estimates from the large Venezuelan data firm Ecoanalítica suggest that the economy could shrink 10.4 percent this year, exacerbating a four-year nose dive that some economists already call worse than the United States’ Great Depression.

Potentially more dangerous, analysts say, is the prospect of a sovereign debt crisis that could bring the country to a whole new level of economic pain.

Wagner reported from Washington. Anthony Faiola and Rachelle Krygier in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.

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