The event was supposed to focus on infrastructure but veered into a conversation about race.
President Trump, oftentimes not one to stay on topic, shared his true feelings about the clashes in Charlottesville over the weekend, and about the state of race relations in America, during an event Tuesday afternoon (Aug. 15) that was intended to focus on his efforts to enact infrastructure reform.
He addressed reporters and answered their questions from Trump Tower in Manhattan, a rare media opportunity for a president that has scarcely held press conferences. “I think there’s blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it,” he stated to reporters.
Trump denied that he waited too long to address what happened in Charlottesville, where alt-right protesters and nationalists fought with counter-protesters. “Before I make a statement, I need the facts,” he said. “So I don’t want to rush the statement.” (Trump released a stronger statement on Monday than he did on Saturday, when he said “many sides” were to blame for what happened.)
He then attacked the media. “Honestly, if the press were not fake and if it was honest, the press would have said what I said was very nice,” he said. “I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters.”
Trump was also contentious when a reporter used the term “alt-right,” asking the reporter to define it for him. “What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, the alt-right?” he asked. “Do they have any semblance of guilt? … I think they do.” (He was referring to the often combative Antifa group, which opposes fascism.)
He also sarcastically questioned whether statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would next be removed. “You are changing history, you are changing culture,” he stated. (A statue of Robert E. Lee had been removed in Charlottesville, which led to the protest.)
At one point, Trump said “I’m not finished, fake news,” when reporters began asking him another question.
Trump also gave a lukewarm endorsement of White House strategist Steve Bannon, saying that “he’s a good man” and “not a racist,” but that “we’ll have to see what happens” with him. Bannon is reportedly on the outs at the White House and might soon be let go.
Jake Tapper began his 4 p.m. show on CNN before having to cut back to the president still answering questions. “Good afternoon, and welcome to The Lead. And wow, that was something else,” he said.
This article was originally posted on The Hollywood Reporter.