U.S. President Donald Trump criticized the media and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham in tweets Thursday, saying they have misrepresented his comments following the deadly violence that erupted last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Trump on Saturday initially blamed the violence on “many sides,” but then on Monday condemned neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan for their role in the unrest. By Tuesday he reverted to his initial assessment of the violence that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and wounded 19 others when a Nazi sympathizer drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters.
That response drew widespread criticism from prominent Republicans and Democrats, as well as business leaders and military officials.
Among them was Graham, who on Wednesday said Trump’s words were “dividing Americans, not healing them.”
“Through his statements yesterday, President Trump took a step backward by again suggesting there is a moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members who attended the Charlottesville rally and people like Ms. Heyer,” Graham said.
“Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis & white supremacists and people like Ms. Heyer. Such a disgusting lie,” Trump said in a series of tweets. He further said of the media, “They totally misrepresent what I say about hate, bigotry, etc. Shame!”
Hours earlier, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford said “there’s no place for racism and bigotry” in the United States or its military, and that he is “very saddened” by what happened in Charlottesville.
Speaking during a visit to Beijing, Dunford praised similar comments made earlier by the top officers in the various U.S. military branches.
“They were speaking directly to the force and to the American people,” Dunford said. “To the force to make it clear that that kind of racism and bigotry is not going to stand inside the force, and to the American people to remind them of the values for which we stand in the U.S. military, which are reflective of what I believe to be the values of the United States.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters Wednesday in Washington that he condemns the “hate and violence” displayed in Charlottesville, adding, “There is just simply no place for that in our public discourse.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking at an event in Miami, Florida, said, “In no way can we accept [or] apologize for racism, bigotry, hatred, violence, and those kind of things that too often arise in our country.”
Former Republican presidents
Also Wednesday, two former U.S. presidents, George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush, the last two Republicans elected to the White House before Trump, said in a joint statement, “America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms.”
After Trump announced Wednesday he will hold a campaign rally next week in Phoenix, Arizona, the city’s mayor said that while the president has the right to stage the event, he hopes Trump will delay the visit.
“I am disappointed that President Trump has chosen to hold a campaign rally as our nation is still healing from the tragic events in Charlottesville,” Mayor Greg Stanton said. “If President Trump is coming to Phoenix to announce a pardon for former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, then it will be clear that his true intent is to enflame emotions and further divide our nation.”
Arpaio was convicted last month in a federal court for disobeying a judge’s order to stop traffic patrols that targeted immigrants. Trump said in an interview this week he was considering pardoning Arpaio, who was one of the speakers at last year’s Republican National Convention where the now-president accepted the party’s nomination for the November election.
David Duke, the one-time Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, immediately praised Trump’s remarks Tuesday, saying, “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists.”
More key Republicans took immediate offense at Trump’s contention there was equivalency in who was to blame for the hours of street violence, as demonstrators squared off with makeshift clubs, engaged in fist fights and fired bursts of chemical irritants at each other.
“We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan. “This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.”
WATCH: Republicans Join Democrats in Denouncing Trump Comments on Charlottesville
Senator Marco Rubio, defeated last year by Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, said, “Mr. President, you can’t allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame.”
Ohio Governor John Kasich, who also lost to Trump in 2016, said, “The president of the United States needs to condemn these kind of hate groups. This is about the fact that now these folks are apparently going to go other places and they think that they had some sort of a victory.”
Senate Democratic leader Senator Charles Schumer said, “When David Duke and white supremacists cheer your remarks, you’re doing it very, very wrong. Great and good American presidents seek to unite, not divide. Donald Trump’s remarks clearly show he is not one of them.”
Trump’s remarks also drew a rebuke from an ally, British Prime Minister Theresa May.
May said, “I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them. I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views wherever we hear them.”
Carla Babb contributed to this report from Beijing.