In a stunning reversal from comments he made just one day prior, President Trump said on Tuesday "there's blame on both sides" for the violence in Charlottesville, Va.
On Monday, Trump specifically called out the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists in a choreographed statement read at the White House — but that was two days after his initial statement on the protests, for which he was criticized for not condemning those groups and instead cited violence "on many sides."
On Tuesday, Trump was back home at Trump Tower in New York City and took questions from reporters in an impromptu, highly combative press conference that was expected to be limited to statements by the president and members of his Cabinet about infrastructure.
The gathering of white nationalists over the weekend in Charlottesville resulted in multiple injuries and the death of one woman, who was killed after a car rammed into a group of counterprotesters. The suspect has been denied bond and charged with second-degree murder.
The demonstrators — donning Confederate flags and swastikas, many carrying guns and shields — came to the college town to protest the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general. They were met with counterprotests, and violence erupted on Saturday.
Trump faced widespread criticism for what was seen as an insufficient statement about the events on Saturday. Seeming to bow to those critiques on Monday, he delivered a new statement and placed blame on white supremacist groups.
Tuesday's reversal came during a live televised event about infrastructure attended by some members of his Cabinet. Trump took questions from reporters, who asked about his earlier statements and their timing. When pressed, the president pushed back and began placing blame on counterprotesters and the "alt left." The views of the so-called alt-right are widely seen as anti-Semitic and white supremacist.
Trump also took particular umbrage at the idea that he had waited too long to condemn the hate groups.
"I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct. Not make a quick statement," the president said. "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 a little while to get the facts. You still don't know the facts. And it's a very, very important process to me....I want to know the facts."
However, in the past Trump has rarely shown restraint when responding to tragedies like the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and terrorist attacks in London. He peddled the false birther conspiracy against former President Obama, and has said plenty of false statements.
After the press conference, former KKK grand wizard David Duke thanked the president on Twitter for his "honesty and courage" and for being willing to "condemn" Black Lives Matter and anti-fascists (whom Trump did not name).
Read a transcript of the president remarks:
REPORTER: Why did you wait so long to blast neo-Nazis?
TRUMP: I didn't wait long. I didn't wait long. I didn't wait long. 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 fact. It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don't know the facts. And it's a very, very important process to me. And it's a very important statement. 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 --
If you go back to my ...
As I said on, remember this, on 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. Now here's the thing --
Excuse me. Excuse me. Take it nice and easy. 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 a statement, I need the facts. So I don't want to rush into a statement. So making the statement when I made it was excellent.
In fact, the young woman, who I hear is a fantastic young woman, and it was on NBC, her mother wrote me and said through, I guess Twitter, social media, the nicest things. And I very much appreciated that. I hear she was a fine, really actually an incredible, young woman. But her mother on Twitter thanked me for what I said.
And honestly, if the press were not fake , and if it was honest, the press would have said what I said was very nice. But unlike you --
But unlike you and unlike the media, before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.
REPORTER: The CEO of Wal Mart said you missed a critical opportunity to help bring the country together. Did you?
TRUMP: Not at all. I think the country, look, you take a look, I've created over a million jobs since I'm president, the 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 levels of enthusiasm. So the head of Wal Mart – who I know, who is very nice guy – was making a political statement.
...I want to make sure, when I make a statement, that the statement is correct. And there was no way, there was no way of making a correct statement that early. I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters. 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 coming out were very well stated. In fact, everybody said, his statement was beautiful, if he would have made it sooner, that would have been good. I couldn't have made it sooner because I didn't know all of 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 have 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. Excuse me. There's still things that people don't know. I want to make a statement with knowledge. I wanted to know the states.
REPORTER: Was this terrorism?
TRUMP: 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. That's what I'd call it. 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.
REPORTER: Do you still have confidence in Steve Bannon?
TRUMP: Look, 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. 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. But we'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon but he's a good person and I think the press treats him frankly very unfairly.
REPORTER: Sen. McCain said that the alt right is behind these attacks and he linked that same group to those who perpetrated the attack in Charlottesville?
TRUMP: I'm sure Senator McCain must know what he's talking about. But when you say the alt right, define alt right to me? You define it. No you define it.
REPORTER: Senator McCain defined it as --
TRUMP: Excuse me. What about the alt left who came charging, as you say, the alt right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? Let me ask you this, what about the fact they came charging, that 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. Wait a minute, I'm not finished. I'm not finished, fake news.
That was a horrible day.
I watched those very closely. Much more closely than you people watched it. And you have, 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 that. But I'll say it right now.
You had a group, you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.
TRUMP: No. There were people in that rally, and I looked the night before, if you look, they 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 that 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 ...
This story has been updated.