On Tuesday afternoon, President Trump gave a press conference at Trump Tower that quickly devolved into a tense, defensive session in which Trump blasted the media, ripped into the movement to remove statues of Robert E. Lee, and defended Friday night’s torch-lit parade led by white supremacists in Charlottesville.
Trump was asked why he waited so long to condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists by name after the Charlottesville events. Trump responded:
I didn’t wait long. I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct. Not make a quick statement. The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement, but 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’s a very, very important process to me. And it’s a very important statement. So I don’t want to go quickly and make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts. If you go back to my original statement … I brought it.
Trump then pulled out a copy of his Saturday statement and read it aloud, skipping the key phrase “on both sides” that had so many Americans upset. He continued:
Excuse me, excuse me, take it nice and easy. Here’s the thing. When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts. This event just happened. In fact, a lot of the event didn’t even happen yet as we were speaking. This event just happened. Before I make a statement, I need the facts. So I don’t want to rush into a statement. So making the statement when I made it was excellent. In fact, the young woman who I hear was a fantastic young woman, and it was on NBC, her mother wrote me and said through I guess Twitter, social media, the nicest things. And I very much appreciated that. I hear she was a fine, really actually an incredible young woman. But her mother on Twitter thanked me for what I said. And honestly, if the press were not fake, and it was honest, the press would have said what I said was very nice. But unlike you and unlike the media, before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.
When Trump was asked why white supremacists support him, Trump said, “They don’t. They don’t.”
Trump was asked about the CEO of Walmart stating that Trump missed a critical opportunity to bring the country together. Trump replied, “Not at all,” before touting his economic record. Trump continued:
I want to make sure when I make a statement that the statement is correct. And there was no way of making a correct statement that early. I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters. I didn’t know David Duke was there, I wanted to see the facts. And the facts as they started coming out, were very well stated. In fact, everybody said, his statement was beautiful, if he would have made it sooner then that would have been good, I couldn’t have made it sooner because I didn’t know all of the facts. Frankly, people still don’t know all of the facts. It was very important to me to get the facts out and correctly, because if I would have made a fast statement, and the first statement was made without knowing much other than what we were seeing, the second statement was made with knowledge, with great knowledge. There are still things that people don’t know. I want to make a statement with knowledge, I wanted to know the facts.
Trump was asked about Senator McCain’s comments about the alt-right. Trump stated:
When you say the alt-right, define alt-right to me. No, define it for me. Come on, let’s go, you define it for me. ... What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? Let me ask you this? What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do. So as far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day. I’m not finished, fake news! That was a horrible day. I will tell you something, I watched this closely, very closely, much more closely than you people watched it. You had 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 that right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.
Trump was asked about the "alt-left" and whether they were the same as neo-Nazis. Trump responded:
I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned very different groups. But not all 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 the statue of Robert E. Lee. And you take a look at some of the groups and you see, and you’d know it if you were honest reporters which in many cases you’re not, but many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is 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. But they were there to protest, excuse me, take a look at the night before, they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.
Trump then added that the local town, community, or the feds should determine whether statues of Robert E. Lee should stay up. Trump said regarding race relations:
I think they’ve gotten better or the same. Look, they’ve been frayed for a long time, and you can ask President Obama about that, because he’d make speeches about that. But I believe that the fact that I brought in, it will be soon, millions of jobs … I think that’s going to have a tremendous positive impact on race relations.
Trump was asked whether he was placing the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane. Trump said:
I’m not putting anybody on a 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 at each other with clubs, and it was vicious and it was horrible, and it was a horrible thing to watch. But there was another side, there was a group on this side, you can call them the left, you just called them the left, that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is. … I think there’s blame on both sides. You look at both sides, 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. And if you reported it accurately, you would see … you had some very bad people in that group, but you had people who were very fine people on both sides. Excuse me, excuse me, I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group who were there to protest the taking down of to them a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name. George Washington was a slaveowner. Was George Washington a slaveowner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down statues of George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? Do you like him? Are we going to take down his statue, because he was a major slaveowner?... You’re changing history, you’re changing culture, and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now in the other group also, you had some very fine people, but you also had troublemakers, and you see them come with the black outfits and the helmets and the baseball bats, you had a lot of bad people in the other group too. … There were people in that rally, and I looked the night before, if you look, they were people protesting very quietly, the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I am 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. But you had a lot of people in that group who were there to innocently protest, and very legally protest, but they had a permit, the other group didn’t have a permit. So I only tell you this: there are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country. But there are two sides to the country.
Trump was asked about reaching out to the family of the slain woman in Charlottesville. Trump said:
I thought the mother’s statement was a beautiful statement. I must tell you, it was something that I really appreciated. I thought it was really terrific.
While walking away, Trump was asked about visiting Charlottesville; Trump said he owned a house there.