Two days after an alleged Nazi sympathizer killed a woman during a white supremacist rally in Virginia, President Trump finally specifically denounced right-wing extremists groups on Monday. Reading a statement to the assembled media, he said “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.”
The delay between Trump’s much-decried “many sides” statement on Saturday—“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides,” he said—and his more specific comments on Monday raised questions about what took him so long. But despite promising on Friday that he’d hold a “pretty big news conference on Monday,” Trump didn’t give reporters a chance to ask him any questions.
Later Monday, Trump held a brief press spray after signing a memorandum about China’s intellectual property practices. As it wrapped up, CNN’s Jim Acosta asked him, “Mr. President, can you explain why you did not condemn those hate groups by name over the weekend?”
Trump responded passively and as though the Virginia incident and its aftermath were ancient history, saying, “They’ve been condemned, they’ve been condemned.”
As Trump started to walk away, Acosta managed to squeeze in another question, asking Trump why he’s not having the press conference he promised. Trump responded with a lie, and then took a cheap shot at CNN.
“We had a press conference, we just had a press conference,” Trump said, despite the fact no press conference had occurred. He then told Acosta that while he doesn’t mind answering questions, “I like real news, not fake news. You’re fake news.”
— CNN (@CNN) August 14, 2017
This wasn’t the first time Trump targeted Acosta for abuse. During a news conference Trump held shortly before the inauguration, Trump refused to take a question from Acosta, saying CNN “is terrible” and adding, “you are fake news.” (At the time, Trump was upset by CNN’s reporting about his Russia connections—a story the network has continued to break news about since Trump took office.)
Then, during a White House press briefing earlier this month, Acosta prompted White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller to lose his cool after he pressed him about the racial implications of a new immigration bill backed by the Trump administration that gives English speakers preferred status.
Trump’s attack on CNN for asking him questions about his response to a domestic terrorism incident involving white supremacists happened just hours after Vice President Mike Pence deployed the same tactic against NBC.
During an interview that aired Monday morning, NBC’s Peter Alexander pressed Pence about the appropriateness of Trump discussing “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides” in response to violence perpetrated by racists. Pence dodged the question and instead criticized the media, saying, “I take issue with the fact that many in the media are spending more time” criticizing Trump instead of “those who brought that hatred and violence to the streets of Charlottesville.” But Alexander pointed out that Trump is being criticized by Republican senators like Orrin Hatch and Cory Gardner: “It’s not me, I’m reading their quotes,” he said.
The statement Trump read on Monday raised further questions. His reference to “other hate groups” after he mentioned racist factions like the KKK and neo-Nazis was applauded by Stormfront, a popular white nationalist website. A post on the site said Trump “did leave himself (and White Americans) a small out with the words … ‘and other hate groups.'”