Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is running as the antidote to the alleged racism of President Donald Trump, using a “fake news” claim that he praised white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. The claim remains a lie.
The president was asked about Charlottesville in a press conference in August 2017 after riots broke out between left-wing and right-wing groups over a weekend of protests and counter-protests around the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists joined the group protesting against the statue’s removal; “Antifa” radicals joined the group protesting against the statue and the far-right extremists.
The resulting violence, including the murder of one left-wing protester, was almost predictable, after local officials declined to provide adequate police protection. The media’s reaction was also predictable, as journalists suggested Trump had not sufficiently condemned the far-right groups. In the press conference, Trump made what ought to have been a non-controversial point: that there were sincere protesters on both sides, and violence on both sides.
The media, however, took a single phrase — “very fine people” — out of context to make it appear as though the president had praised the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists, ignoring the fact that he condemned them repeatedly.
Kamala Harris is relying on the “fake news” to promote her candidacy. She mentioned Charlottesville in her campaign launch speech on Sunday in Oakland, and again at a CNN town hall on Monday evening, telling host Jake Tapper and the audience: “We have seen when charlottesville and a woman was killed, that we’ve had a president who basically said, well, there were equal sides to this.” Tapper did not correct Harris’s falsehood.
Regarding the woman who was killed — Heather Heyer was her name — Trump specifically condemned the murder and called it terrorism in the same press conference in which Harris falsely claims he said “there were equal sides to this”:
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.
Trump never said “there were equal sides to this.” He said, referring to the issue of the statue, that “there were very fine people on both sides” — a fact that was confirmed by the New York Times, no less, which reported that some of the protesters who came to Charlottesville did so to support the statue of Robert E. Lee for historic reasons.
The transcript of the relevant portion of the press conference makes it clear Trump was referring to supporters of the statue. The following came after several earlier exchanges about the statue (emphasis added):
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.
Trump — with a Jewish daughter, and pro-Israel policies — also repeatedly condemned the neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
On Monday evening, this reporter had an exchange on Twitter with Ron Kampeas, the Washington, D.C. bureau chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a well-respected journalist whose stories are reprinted around the world.
Kampeas, who was present at the protests in Charlottesville, began by arguing that Trump had indeed referred to the neo-Nazis and white supremacists as “very fine people,” and pointed to the transcript as the evidence for that claim.
No. Read the transcript. Trump was asked specifrically about Charlottesville, he led into “very fine people” by describing his (wrong) version of events. (I was there.) And why go to NYT analysis 4 days later when finding transcript is easy? https://t.co/6fXWEf8nmd
— (((Ron Kampeas))) (@kampeas) January 29, 2019
The transcript, however, supports Trump’s claim — even if Trump did not have all the facts right about the march.
By the end of the exchange, Kampeas admitted there had been a “misimression,” even though he blamed Trump for the media’s errors, and pointed out that the far-right groups had rejoiced in the mis-reporting of Trump’s remarks.
Ok, but the facility he lacks for acknowledging error contributed to this misimpression, and worse than Dems making hay of it, the neo-Nazis rejoiced. https://t.co/qIPsJlG8ni
— (((Ron Kampeas))) (@kampeas) January 29, 2019
Harris is running, then, on a lie — one created by the media and circulated by the Democrats, but nonetheless a lie.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.