When a driver rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters at a rally of white nationalists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, one person — Heather Heyer — died.
President Trump, in his third public statement on the violence, said it was important to hear both sides, and defended the rallies as drawing “many people … other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists” who have been treated “absolutely unfairly.”
Then, after standing up for attendees at a rally where swastika flags were on full display, he stood up for Confederate monuments: “This week, it is Robert E. Lee and this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
A full rush transcript of Trump’s remarks follows, beginning with the first question he was asked about making a statement on Charlottesville.
Trump: 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 facts. It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don't know the facts. It is a very, very important process to me. It is 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 statement, I brought it. I brought it. As I said, remember, saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place in America. I went on from there. Here is the thing.
Excuse me. Take it nice and easy. Here is the thing.
When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts. This event just happened. A lot of the event didn't happen yet as we were speaking. This event just happened. Before I make a statement, I need the facts. 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. I very much appreciated that. I hear she was a fine, really actually an incredible young woman. Her mother, on Twitter, thanked me for what I said. Honestly, if the press were not fake and if it was honest, the press would have said what I said was very nice. Unlike you and unlike the media, before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.
How about a couple of infrastructure questions.
Q: The CEO of Walmart 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 1 million jobs since I have been president. The country is booming. The stock market is setting records. We have the highest employment numbers we have ever had in the history of our country. We are doing record business. We have the highest levels of enthusiasm so the head of Walmart, who I know, a very nice guy, was making a political statement.
I would do it the same way, because 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, unlike a lot of reporters. I didn't know David Duke was there. I wanted to see the facts. The facts, as they started coming out, were very well-stated. 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 -- excuse me, excuse me. 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 with knowledge, with great knowledge. There are still things -- excuse me. There are still things that people don't know. I want to make a statement with knowledge. I want to know the facts.
Q: Was this terrorism? Can you tell us how you are feeling about Steve Bannon?
Trump: I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and this country. 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. There is a question. Is it murder? Is it terrorism? Then you get into legal semantics. The driver of the car is a murderer. What he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.
Q: Can you tell us how you are feeling about your chief strategist, Mr. Bannon?
Q: Steve Bannon --
Trump: I never spoke to Mr. Bannon about it.
Q: Can you tell us do you have confidence in Steve?
Trump: Look, look, I like Mr. Bannon. He is a friend of mine. 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. I like him. He is a good man. He is not a racist. I can tell you that. He is a good person. He actually gets a very unfair press in that regard. We'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon. He is a good person and I think the press treats him frankly very unfairly.
Q: They have called on you to defend your national security adviser H.R. McMaster against these attacks--
Trump: Senator McCain, you mean the one that voted against Obamacare? You mean senator McCain who voted against us getting good healthcare?
Q: Said that the alt-right is behind these attacks and he linked that same group to those that perpetrated the attack in Charlottesville.
Trump: I don't know. I can't tell you. I'm sure Senator McCain must know what he is talking about. When you say the alt right. You define it. Go ahead. Define it for me. Let's go.
Q: Senator McCain defined them as the same group.
Trump: What about the alt left that came charging at, as you say, at the alt right? Do they have any assemblage of guilt? What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do. 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 will fell tell you something. I watched that very closely, much more closely than you people watched it. You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I'll say it right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.
Q: Do you think what you call the alt left is the same as neo-Nazis?
Trump: All of those people -- i've condemned neo-Nazis. I've condemned many different groups. Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.
You take a look at some of the groups and you see and you would know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases, you are not. Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. This week, it is Robert E. Lee and this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop? You take a look. The night before. They were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.
Infrastructure question. Go ahead.
Q: Does the statue of Robert E. Lee stay up?
Trump: I would say that is up to a local town, community or the federal government, depending on where it is located.
Q: Do you think things have gotten worse or better since you took office with regard to race relationships?
Trump: They have been frayed for a long time. You can ask President Obama about that. He would make speeches about it. I believe that the fact that I brought in, it will be soon, millions of jobs, you see where companies are moving back into our countries. I think that's going to have a tremendous positive impact on race relations.
We have companies coming back into our country. We have two car companies that just announced. We have Foxconn in Wisconsin, just announced. We have many companies, I would say, pouring back into the country. I think that's going to have a huge positive impact on race relations.
You know why? It is jobs. What people want now, they want jobs. They want great jobs with good pay. When they have that, you watch how race relations will be. We are spending a lot of money on the inner cities. We are fixing the inner cities. We are doing far more than anybody has done with respect to the inner cities. It is a priority for me.
Q: Mr. President, are you putting what you are calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?
Trump: I am not putting anybody on a moral plane. You had a group on one side and the other and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and horrible. It was a horrible thing to watch. There is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You have just called them the left, that came violently attacking the other group. You can say what you want. That's the way it is.
Q: You said there was hatred and violence on both sides?
Trump: I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame object both on both sides. I have no doubt about it. You don't have doubt about it either. If you reported it accurately, you would say that the neo-Nazis started this thing. They showed up in Charlottesville. Excuse me. They didn't put themselves down as neo-Nazis. You had some very bad people in that group. You also had some very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group -- excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.
George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down -- excuse me. Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him. Good. Are we going to take down his statue. He was a major slave owner. Are we going to take down his statue? It is fine. You are changing history and culture.
You had people and i'm not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists. They should be condemned totally. You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. The press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people but you also had troublemakers and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You had a lot of bad people in the other group too.
Q: You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly?
Trump: No, no. There were people in that rally. I looked the night before. If you look, there were people protesting very quietly the taking down taking down the statue of Robert E. Lee. I am sure 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. You had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest. 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 horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment. But there are two sides to the country.
Does anybody have a final question? Do you have an infrastructure question?
Q: What makes you think you can get an infrastructure bill?
Trump: Well, we came very close with health care. Unfortunately, John McCain decided to vote against it at the last minute. You will have to ask him why he did that. We came very close to health care. We will end up getting health care. We will get the infrastructure. That is something I think we'll have bipartisan support on. I think democrats will go along with the infrastructure.
Q: Have you spoken to the family of the victim of the car attack?
Trump: No. I will be reaching out.
Q: When will you be reaching out?
Trump: I thought that the statement put out, the mother's statement, I thought was a beautiful statement. It was something that I really appreciated. I thought it was terrific. Under the kind of stress that she is under and the heartache she is under, I thought putting out that statement to me was really something I won't forget. Thank you all very much. Thank you.