President Donald Trump engaged in a combative press conference with reporters Tuesday at Trump Tower after making a statement about infrastructure. Trump answered questions about Charlottesville and his response to it. You can watch a full replay of the press conference above. Trump began taking questions from the media about the 6-minute mark of the video above.
“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 it, but I’ll say it right now,” Trump told reporters. “You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.”
He added, “I think there’s blame on both sides. And I don’t have any doubt about it.”
Trump was scheduled to make a statement about an executive order he signed Tuesday to establish “discipline and accountability in the environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure projects.” After he made that statement, Trump asked the pool reporters if there were any questions, and the topic quickly shifted to the Charlottesville protests that resulted in the death of a 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, who was killed when an attacker who had rallied with a neo-Nazi group slammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters on Saturday. White supremacists, neo-Nazis and members of the alt-right had gathered in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. According to NBC News, Trump taking questions about Charlottesville was not part of the plan for the Trump Tower event.
Trump essentially walked back his Monday statement, read from a teleprompter, which condemned white nationalists, the KKK and neo-Nazis. On Tuesday, he retreated to his Saturday comment when he blamed “both sides” for the violence and chaos in Charlottesville, adding further comments attacking the “alt-left” for an alleged role in what happened in the Virginia city. Trump was asked by a reporter why he “waited so long” to make the statement against Nazis (another reporter shouted at the same time, “why do Nazis like you? Trump didn’t answer that question).
“I didn’t wait long, I didn’t wait long,” Trump replied. “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 awhile to get the facts. You still don’t know the facts.”
Trump never clarified what facts the media doesn’t know.
“And it’s a very, very, important process to me, and it’s a very important statement,” Trump said. “So I don’t want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts.”
Trump Said He Wanted to Wait for the Facts Before Making a Statement
Trump then reached into his pocket and took out the Saturday statement, which he brought with him, apparently anticipating the reporters’ questions.
“I brought it, I brought it. As I said, remember this Saturday, ‘we condemn in the strongest possible terms, this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, it has no place in America.’ And then I went on from there,” Trump said. He went on to say, “on many sides, on many sides,” during the Saturday statement, a portion that was controversial and that he did not read Tuesday. After reading the statement, a reporter mentioned the “many sides” comment, and the president replied, “excuse me, excuse me, take it nice and easy.”
Trump then went on to say, “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 the statement, I need the facts. So I don’t want to rush into a statement. So making a statement when I made it was excellent. In fact, the young woman, who I hear is a fantastic woman, her mother wrote me and said … the nicest things. And I very much appreciated that. I hear she was a fine, really actually 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.”
Trump never mentioned the victim, Heather Heyer, by name, and said he has not spoken to her family. He said he would try to reach out to them.
Trump then tried to shift the questioning back to infrastructure, but was not able to. A reporter then asked Trump if he agreed with the CEO of Walmart, who said that the president missed an opportunity to bring the country together.
“Not at all,” Trump replied. “I’ve created over a million jobs since I’ve been president. Our country is booming, the stock market is setting records. We have the highest employment numbers we’ve ever had in the history of our country. We’re doing record business. We have the highest level of enthusiasm. So the head of Walmart, who I know, who is a very nice guy, was making a political statement. Because I want to make sure that when I make a statement that the statement is correct. 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 to come out were very well stated. In fact everybody said his ‘statement was beautiful,’ if he would’ve made it sooner that would’ve been good, I couldn’t have made it sooner because I didn’t know all 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’ve made a fast statement, and the first statement was made without knowing much other than what we were seeing. The second statement was made after 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 Called the Driver of the Car That Killed Heather Heyer a ‘Murderer’ & Deflected Questions on Whether His Administration Enabled White Supremacists
Trump was then asked if the incident that left Heather Heyer dead was “terrorism.” The president replied, “Well I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and this 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. 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 said he did not speak to White House senior adviser Steve Bannon about Charlottesville after he was asked if he still has confidence in Bannon. There have been rumors that Bannon could be ousted from the administration and many have called for him to be fired after the Charlottesville incident, saying that he and others have enabled the white supremacists and Nazis who were behind the Charlottesville incident.
“We’ll see. And look, I like Mr. Bannon, he’s a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late, you know that. I went through 17 senators, governors and I won all the primaries,” Trump said. “Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that. And I like him, he’s a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He’s a good person, he actually gets a very unfair press in that regard. He’s a good person and I think the press treats him frankly very unfairly.”
Trump Says the ‘Alt-Left’ Came Charging at the Group Protesting the Removal of the Statue With ‘Clubs’
Trump was then asked about the alt-right and its role in Charlottesville.
“When you say the alt-right, define alt-right to me, you define it. Go ahead, no define it for me, come on, let’s go,” Trump said. “What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, alt right. 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 problem? I think they do. As far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day…”
Trump was then interrupted by a reporter, whom he called “fake news.” The president continued by saying he watched Charlottesville “much more closely” than reporters did, and said, “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 it, 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.”
He was then asked if the “alt-left” is the same as neo-Nazis.
“Those people, all of those people, excuse me, I’ve 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,” Trump said. “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. This week it’s 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. They were there to protest, excuse me, you take a look the night before, they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.”
The president again tried to shift back to infrastructure, but was instead asked if the statue of Lee should stay up. He replied, “I would say that’s up to a local town, community, or the federal government, depending on where it’s located.” In Charlottesville, the city council voted to remove the Lee statue, angering white supremacist groups.
Trump Claimed He Will Grow Jobs & That Will Improve Race Relations in America
When asked whether race relations are better or worse in America since he was elected president, Trump said, “I think they’ve gotten better or the same. They’ve been frayed for a long time. And you can ask President Obama about that because he’d make speeches about it. 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. We have companies coming back into our country. We have two car companies that just announced, we have FoxConn in Wisconsin that just announced, we have many companies, I say pouring back into the country. I say that’s going to have a huge positive impact on race relations. You know why? It’s jobs. What people want to now is jobs. They want great jobs with good pay. And when they have that, you watch how race relations will be.”
Trump added that they are spending a lot of money on the inner cities and they are fixing the inner cities.
“We’re doing far more than anybody’s done with respect to the inner cities, it’s a priority to me,” Trump said.
The President Said Taking Down Confederate Statues Is ‘Changing History’ & ‘Changing Culture
Trump was then asked if he was equating white supremacists and the counter-protesters.
“I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane, what I’m saying is this, you had a group one 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,” Trump said. “But there is 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.”
Trump said, “I think there’s blame on both sides. And I don’t have any doubt about it. And you don’t have any doubt about it. And, if you reported it accurately, you would say it.”
The president said while there were bad people in the “Unite the Right” group protesting the statue, “You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides, you had people in that group, excuse me, excuse me, I saw the same pictures you did. There were 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.”
Trump then compared the removal of the Lee statute to the possibility that other statues would be taken down.
“George Washington was a slave owner, so will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down statues of George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? Do you like him?” Trump asked. “OK good, are we going to take the down the statue? Because he was a major slave owner. Are we going to take down his statue? You’re changing history, you’re changing culture, and you had people, and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white supremacists, because they should be condemned totally, but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”
Trump then turned his attention back to the counter-protesters.
“In the other group, also you had some fine people, but you also had troublemakers,” Trump said. “And you see them come with the black outfits, and with the helmets and with the baseball bats, you had a lot of bad people in the other group.”
He said that Friday night, when “Unite the Right” protesters gathered with Tiki torches at the statute, “there 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. But you had a lot of people in that group who were there to innocently protest, and very legally protest, because I don’t know if you know, 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. A horrible moment. But there are two sides.”
Trump Said He Will Be Reaching Out to the Victim’s Family & Took the Time to Promote a Winery He Doesn’t Actually Own
Trump said he will be reaching out to the victim’s family. He then turned back again to the mother’s statement that mentioned him.
“The mother’s statement I thought was a beautiful statement,” Trump said. “It was something I really appreciated. I thought it was terrific. And under the kind of stress that she’s under and the heartache she’s under, I thought that putting out that statement to me was really something I won’t forget.”
Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, said in a statement Monday, “Thank you, President Trump, for those words of comfort and for denouncing those who promote violence and hatred. My condolences, also, to the grieving families of the two state troopers and quick recovery for those injured.”
As he was leaving, Trump was asked if he would be going to Charlottesville. He took the opportunity to mention the home he owns there and the winery he claimed to operate.
“I own a house in Charlottesville. Does anyone know I own a house in Charlottesville? Oh boy, it’s in Charlottesville, you’ll see,” Trump said. “It is the winery. I know a lot about Charlottesville. Charlottesville is a great place that’s been very badly hurt over the past couple of days. I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States. It’s in Charlottesville.”
The winery is not actually one of the largest in the United States and is also not actually owned or operated by Trump, Mother Jones reports.
He then was asked how the country can overcome racism.
“Well I really think jobs can help. I think if we continue to create jobs, over a million, substantially more than a million,” Trump said. “I think that if we continue to create jobs at levels that I’m creating jobs. I think that’s going to have a tremendous impact, positive impact, on race relations. … People are going to be working, they’re going to be making a lot of money, much more money than they ever thought possible. And the other thing, very important, I believe wages will start going up. … I think that will have a tremendously positive impact on race relations.”