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Trump: Blame for Violence and 'Very Fine People on Both Sides' of White Nationalist Rally

President Trump speaks to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York on Aug. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Trump returned to blaming all sides for Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville in which a counter-protester was killed and 19 others injured when a man demonstrating at the Unite the Right rally plowed his car into a crowd, with the president saying today there were also “very fine people on both sides” of the white nationalist event.

Trump appeared in the lobby of Trump Tower, flanked by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, to pitch an executive order to streamline federal approval for infrastructure projects. When he opened the floor to the media, the questions weren’t about infrastructure.

On Monday, after two days of GOP senators and others calling on the president to condemn the white nationalists who staged the rally, Trump read a statement at the White House: “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

Today, Trump said of his Saturday statement blaming “many sides” that “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.”

He pulled out and re-read part of that statement: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence.”

“Before I make a statement, I need the facts,” he added. “So I don’t want to rush into a statement. So making the statement when I made it was excellent.”

Trump said he’s “condemned neo-Nazis, I’ve condemned many different groups.”

“But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee,” he said. “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?”

Asked if the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville should remain where it stands in Emancipation Park, Trump replied, “I would say that’s up to a local town, community, or the federal government, depending on where it is located.”

“…George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So, will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down — excuse me — are we going to take down — are we going to take down statues to George Washington?”

Groups at the Unite the Right rally included Identity Evropa, the National Socialist Movement, Vanguard America, the League of the South, the Traditionalist Workers Party, Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights, Proud Boys and the American Guard. James Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio, who has been charged with murder in the death of Heather Heyer, was photographed demonstrating with Vanguard America, a white supremacist and anti-Semitic group.

Asked if Fields committed an act of terrorism, Trump replied, “The driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and his country. And that is — you can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want. I would just call it as the fastest one to come up with a good verdict. That’s what I’d call it. Because there is a question. Is it murder? Is it terrorism? 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 emphasized the statement from Heyer’s mother thanking the president for acknowledging her slain daughter and denouncing white supremacists in Monday’s remarks. He also confirmed that he hasn’t reached out to Heyer’s family.

After today’s remarks, former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke tweeted “thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth” about Charlottesville.

Trump told reporters that he didn’t know Duke was at the rally; Duke told reporters in Charlottesville that the rally was “a turning point for the people of this country” and an opportunity to “fufill the promises of Donald Trump — that’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump.” He later tweeted at Trump: “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.”

Asked if the alt-right was behind the violence in Charlottesville, Trump asked reporters to define what the “alt-right” means. “OK, what about the alt-left that came charging them?” he then said. “Excuse me. What about the alt-left that came charging at the — as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?”

“You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent, and nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group — you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent,” the president continued.

In addition to Fields, six people face charges in connection with the Charlottesville protests. Jacob Leigh Smith of Louisa, Va., was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery against a reporter. Troy Dunigan of Chattanooga, Tenn., was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct for throwing objects at neo-Nazi demonstrators. James M. O’Brien of Gainesville, Fla., was charged with misdemeanor carrying a concealed weapon. David Parrot of Paoli, Ind., was charged with failure to disperse a riot. Steven C. Balcaitis of York, S.C., was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery for allegedly grabbing a woman by the neck. Robert K. Litzenberger of Charlottesville was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery for allegedly spitting on Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler after a Sunday press conference.

Some caught on video committing violent acts are still at large, such as the rally participants who beat Dre Harris, a 20-year-old special-education teaching assistant who was counter-protesting, with sticks in a parking garage. Harris suffered several injuries and required eight staples in his head.

“I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either,” Trump said. “…You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”

Trump mentioned “the night before,” presumably referring to the torchlit march on the University of Virginia campus in which some participants chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

“If you look, they were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day, it looked like they had some rough, bad people — neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them,” Trump said.