Sunday 22 July 2018

Trump in fresh attack on 'both sides' at protest

Donald Trump gives a news conference at Trump Tower in New York yesterday. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty
Donald Trump gives a news conference at Trump Tower in New York yesterday. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty
A protester outside Trump Tower in New York last night. Photo: Craig Ruttle

Christian Lowe

A combative President Donald Trump insisted again last night that "there is blame on both sides" for the deadly violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, appearing to once again equate the actions of white supremacist groups and those protesting them.

The president's comments effectively wiped away the more conciliatory statement he delivered at the White House one day earlier when he branded members of the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who take part in violence as "criminals and thugs." Trump's advisers had hoped those remarks might quell a crush of criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.

The president's remarks suggested he had been a reluctant participant in that cleanup effort. During an impromptu press conference in the lobby of his Manhattan skyscraper, he praised his original response to Charlottesville and angrily blamed liberal groups in addition to white supremacist for the violence. Some of those protesting the rally to save a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee were "also very violent," he said.

"There are two sides to a story," he said. He added that some facts about the violence still aren't known.

His remarks were welcomed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who tweeted: "Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth."

As Trump talked, his aides on the sidelines of the lobby stood in silence. Chief of staff John Kelly crossed his arms and stared down at his shoes, barely glancing at the president. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders looked around the room trying to make eye contact with other senior aides. One young staffer stood with her mouth agape.

When asked to explain his Saturday comments about Charlottesville, Trump looked down at his notes and again read a section of his initial statement that denounced bigotry but did not single out white supremacists. He then tucked the paper back into his pocket.

Read more: CEOs should have known what to expect when they cosied up to President

Trump said he had yet to call the mother of the woman killed when a car plowed into a group of anti-racist counter-protesters but said that he would soon "reach out." He praised her for what he said was a nice statement about him on social media.

As Trump finally walked away from his lectern, he stopped to answer one more shouted question: Would be plan to visit Charlottesville, the college town ravaged by the hate-filled clashes?

The president's response was to note that he owned property there and to say it was one of the largest wineries in the United States.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump's business advisory council was hit yesterday by its fourth and fifth resignations in three days in the wake of his handling of the Charlottesville riots.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the largest group of labor unions in the country, resigned from President Trump's manufacturing council, with the labor leader saying he refused to accept any tolerance of "bigotry and domestic terrorism." And Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, also announced his resignation a day after a raft of departures by CEOs heading large US corporations. The heads of computer giant Intel, sports clothing company Under Armour and Merck, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, stepped down in protest on Monday.

They joined Bob Iger, the head of Disney, and Tesla's Elon Musk, in saying they could no longer be associated with the White House - both men resigning in June in protest at the decision to pull out of the Paris climate change deal. The former CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, resigned in February after coming under pressure from employees and customers over Trump's travel ban.

Trump yesterday responded in defiant fashion, tweeting: "For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!"

But the exit of so many well-respected business leaders is severely damaging to a president who has prided himself on being a businessman, and a corporate champion.

Putting further pressure on the president, Trump is now facing increased pressure to get rid of the nationalist wing of his White House following the racial protest in Charlottesville. Multiple former and current allies, including Rupert Murdoch, have called for the ousting of Chief Strategist Steve Bannon - a self-proclaimed "nationalist" who ran the Breitbart website and called it a "platform for the alt-right".

The real estate mogul was said to be reciting Bannon's words - as well as those of senior policy advisor Stephen Miller - when he declared to a crowd during his inauguration ceremony that he is the protector of the country's "forgotten men and women" and described the nation as a landscape of "rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones".

Tweet

Miller - one of the main architects of the President's immigration policy - and advisor Sebastian Gorka, who once wrote for Breitbart, have also come under scrutiny. "Bannon, Miller, Gorka must go. Probably more," tweeted John Weaver, an advisor to Ohio Governor John Kasich, who ran against Trump in the Republican primary.

And in another self-inflicted blow, Trump's penchant for tweeting once more landed him in the mire after he appeared to have mistakenly retweeted a message from one of his critics saying "he's a fascist".

Trump deleted his retweet yesterday after about five minutes, but not before the message, sent to his 35 million followers, received a big response.

Yesterday, Trump also retweeted and deleted a cartoon showing a train labelled "Trump" running over a man with "CNN" covering his face.

Irish Independent

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