President Donald Trump on Tuesday adamantly defended his response to the deadly white nationalist rally in Virginia at a chaotic news conference, backing again into the blame of "both sides" that put him into bipartisan hot water.
Bickering with reporters, some of whom he called "fake news," Trump defended the protest that led to the violence and contended that some of the individuals carrying torches at the white nationalist rally did not have bad intentions.
"You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists and the press has treated them absolutely unfairly," Trump said at Trump Tower in New York.
Trump repeatedly stressed that the rally started over the potential removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Asking the rhetorical question of whether Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, he asked, "Are we going to take down Thomas Jefferson's statue?"
The bizarre display will likely do little to stanch the bipartisan criticism heaped on Trump on Saturday after he condemned violence "on many sides." The White House attempted to limit the damage Monday, when Trump made a statement condemning neo-Nazis, white supremacists and KKK members.
Scuffles broke out between participants in the white nationalist rally and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend. A suspected white nationalist allegedly later rammed a car into a group of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring 19 people.
On Friday, the torch-bearing rally participants chanted phrases like "you will not replace us" and "Jew will not replace us."
Trump appeared to equate the violence to both sides of those gathered in Charlottesville. When asked about comments by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., about the so-called alt-right, Trump fired back: "What about the alt-left that came charging?"
"You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent," the president said.
"I think there's blame on both sides," Trump said to reporters. "You look at both sides — I think there's blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it, and you dont have any doubt about it either."
Trump said he still believes his initial statement was adequate. He claimed that his remarks were not stronger because he did not "know the facts."
"I want to make sure, 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," he contended, adding, "unlike a lot of reporters."
The president himself previously labeled an incident a terrorist attack minutes before authorities called it a robbery. He has also made various politically charged, unfounded claims since he took office.
When asked if the driver's attack was domestic terrorism — a label his attorney general and national security advisor have said applies to the situation — he gave a rambling answer and no clear opinion.
"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 call it as fastest one to come up with a good verdict. 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."
Bipartisan criticism started to surface shortly after the news conference. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan tweeted his response:
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., slammed the remarks in no uncertain terms.
"Blaming "both sides" for #Charlottesville?! No," she wrote in a tweet. "Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists? Just no."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the longest serving GOP senator, again shared comments he made after Trump's initial remarks on Saturday.
"I was just eight years old when my older brother Jesse was killed in World War II. As I said on Saturday, Jesse didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home," Hatch said in that statement.
He added: "Civility requires that we approach debate and discourse with sound logic and new ideas, not with cardboard shields and tiki torches."
After Trump's news conference, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., again shared a statement he initially made Saturday. "Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists," Rubio wrote.