“This week it’s Robert E Lee. I notice that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week, and is it, Thomas Jefferson, the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”—President Donald J Trump.
The following is a transcript of President Donald Trump’s remarks at a news conference on infrastructure at Trump Tower on Aug. 15 and the Q&A with the media that followed.
The press conference started with Trump announcing a new Executive Order to reform the infrastructure permitting process in order to speed up new building projects. The controlled media were not interested, and all their questions were about Charlottesville:
REPORTER: Why did you wait so long to denounce 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. And it takes a little while to get the facts. You still don’t know the facts. And 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, in fact I brought it. I brought it.
As I said on remember this, 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 is the thing. Excuse me, 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, 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.
Honestly, if the press were not fake and if it was honest, the press would have said what I said was very nice. – excuse me – unlike you and unlike the media, before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.
REPORTERS YELLING INDISTINCTLY
TRUMP: They didn’t, they didn’t. They don’t.
REPORTERS CONTINUE YELLING INDISTINCTLY
TRUMP: How about, how about, how about a couple of infrastructure questions.
REPORTER: Was that terrorism?
TRUMP: Say it, what?
REPORTER: 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 a million jobs since I have been president. The country is booming, the stock market is setting record, we have the highest employment numbers we’ve 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, who’s a very nice guy, was making a political statement. I mean, I would do it the same way, you know why? Because I want to make sure when I make a statement that the statement is correct.
And there was no way – no way – of making a correct statement that early. I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters, unlike a lot of reporter.
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 – 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 after it 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 wanted to know the facts, okay.
REPORTER: Two questions: was this terrorism? And can you tell us how you are feeling about your Chief Strategist Steve Bannon?
TRUMP: 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 just call it as the fastest one to come up with a good verdict. That’s what I’d call it.
And there is a question. Is it murder? Is it terrorism? 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: Can you tell us how you are feeling about your chief strategist, Mr. Bannon? Can you talk about that?
REPORTER: Steve Bannon —
TRUMP: I never spoke to Mr. Bannon about it.
REPORTER: Can you tell us broadly about – do you still have confidence in Steve?
TRUMP: Well, we’ll see. And look, look, I like Mr. Bannon. He is 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 is a good man. He is not a racist – I can tell you that. He is a good person, he actually gets very unfair press in that regard. We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon. He’s a good person, and I think the press treats him frankly very unfairly.
REPORTER: They have called on you to defend your national security adviser H.R. McMaster against these attacks.
TRUMP: I did that before. Senator McCain? Senator McCain. You mean the one that voted against Obamacare? Who is Senator McCain? You mean senator McCain who voted against us getting good health care?
REPORTER: Senator McCain said that the alt-right is behind these attacks, and he linked that same group to those that perpetrated the attack in Charlottesville.
TRUMP: Well, I don’t know. I can’t tell you. I’m sure Senator McCain must know what he is talking about, but when you say the alt-right, define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead. Define it for me, come on, let’s go.
REPORTER: Senator McCain defined them as the same group.
TRUMP: Okay, what about the alt-left that came charging at [indiscernible] – excuse me – what about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?
REPORTERS YELL INDISTINCTLY
TRUMP: What about this? What about the fact that they came charging – they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.
REPORTERS YELL INDISTINCTLY
TRUMP: 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.
REPORTERS YELL INDISTINCTLY
TRUMP: I will tell you something. I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it. And you had, 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.
REPORTER: Do you think what you call the alt left is the same as neo-Nazis?
TRUMP: Those people – all of those people, excuse me – I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups, but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.
REPORTER: Well, white nationalists –
TRUMP: Those people were also there, because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue Robert E. Lee. So – excuse me – and you take a look at some of the groups and you see, and you’d know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you’re not. Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So this week, it’s Robert E. Lee, I noticed that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after. You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?
REPORTERS YELL INDISTINCTLY
TRUMP: But, they were there to protest – excuse me – 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.
REPORTER: Does the statue of Robert E. Lee stay up?
TRUMP: I would say that’s up to a local town, community or the federal government, depending on where it is located.
REPORTER: Are you against the Confederacy?
REPORTER: On race relations in America, do you think things have gotten worse or better since you took office with regard to race relationships?
TRUMP: I think they’ve gotten better or the same – look – they have been frayed for a long time, and you can ask President Obama about that, because he’d 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 country. 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’d 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. And when they have that, you watch how race relations will be. And I’ll tell you, we’re 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, and it’s very important.
REPORTER: Mr. President, are you putting what you’re calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?
TRUMP: I am not putting anybody on a moral plane, what I’m saying is this: you had a group on one side and a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and horrible and it was a horrible thing to watch, but there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You’ve just called them the left, that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.
REPORTER: You said there was hatred and violence on both sides?
TRUMP: I do think there is blame – yes, I think there is blame on both sides. You look at, you look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either. And, and, and, and if you reported it accurately, you would say.
REPORTER: The neo-Nazis started this thing. They showed up in Charlottesville.
TRUMP: Excuse me, they didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis, and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were 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.
REPORTER: George Washington and Robert E. Lee are not the same.
TRUMP: Oh no, 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, are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? Okay, good. Are we going to take down his statue? He was a major slave owner. Are we going to take down his statue? You know what? It’s fine, you’re changing history, you’re changing culture, and you had people – and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally – but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, okay? And 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.
REPORTER: I just didn’t understand what you were saying. You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly?
TRUMP: No, 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 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 ‘em. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest, because you know, I don’t know if you know, but 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 to the country. Does anybody have a final – does anybody have a final question? You have an infrastructure question.
REPORTER: What makes you think you can get an infrastructure bill? You didn’t get healthcare, you didn’t get tax –
TRUMP: Well, let me tell you. We came very close with health care. Unfortunately, John McCain decided to vote against it at the last minute. You’ll have to ask him why he did that. We came very close to health care. We will end up getting health care. But we’ll get the infrastructure, and actually, infrastructure’s something I think we’ll have bipartisan support on. I actually think – I actually think Democrats will go along with the infrastructure.
REPORTER: Mr. President, have you spoken to the family of the victim of the car attack?
TRUMP: No. I will be reaching out, I’ll be reaching out.
REPORTER: When will you be reaching out?
TRUMP: I thought that the statement put out, the mother’s statement I thought was a beautiful statement. I’ll tell you – it was something that I really appreciated. I thought it was terrific. And really under the kind of stress that she’s under and the heartache she’s under, I thought putting out that statement to me was really something I won’t forget. Thank you all very much. Thank you.
REPORTER: Do you plan to go to Charlottesville, Mr. President?
TRUMP: Did you know I own a house? It’s in Charlottesville, oh boy. It’s in Charlottesville, you’ll see.
REPORTER: Is that the winery or something?
TRUMP: It’s a, it’s a, it is the winery.
REPORTERS YELL INDISTINCTLY.
TRUMP: I mean, I know a lot about Charlottesville. Charlottesville is a great place that’s been very badly hurt over the last couple of days. I own – I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States. It’s in Charlottesville.
REPORTER: What do you think needs to overcome the racial divides?
TRUMP: Well, I really think jobs are going to have a big impact. If we continue to create jobs – over a million – substantially more than a million, and you see just the other day, the car companies come in with Foxconn, I think if we continue to create jobs at levels that I’m creating jobs, I think that’s going to have a tremendous impact – positive impact – on race relations.
REPORTER: And what you said today, how do you think that will impact?
TRUMP: Because the people are going to be working and making a lot of money, much more than they ever thought possible. That’s going to happen. And the other thing, very important, I believe wages will start going up. They haven’t gone up for a long time. I believe wages now, because the economy is doing so well, with respect to employment and unemployment, I believe wages will start to go up. I think that’ll have a tremendously positive impact on race relations. Thank you.