The White House spent Monday forcefully defending President Donald Trump’s rhetoric about his critics and political rivals, while also trying to turn blame for a series of potentially politically motivated crimes back onto the media.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in a White House press briefing said that Trump “has denounced racism, hatred, and bigotry in all forms on a number of occasions and will continue to do that,” acknowledging that Trump “certainly” has concerns that his harsh tone could incite violence.
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“I think the president had a number of moments of bringing the country together. I’ll remind you the very first thing the president did was condemn the attacker and the very first thing the media did was blame the president,” Sanders said.
Over the past week, more than a dozen pipe bombs were sent to prominent Democrats, as well as CNN, allegedly by a fervent supporter of the president. And in Pittsburgh, 11 people were gunned downed at a synagogue in an apparent hate crime targeting Jewish people. In Kentucky, two African-Americans were fatally shot by a white man in what authorities are investigating as a possible hate crime.
Trump “wants in moments where our country is hurting, like we have seen in the last several days, to find ways to bring our country together and we’ve seen him do exactly that,” Sanders said.
She warned that as the White House ramps up Trump’s travel schedule to campaign for Republicans ahead of next week’s midterms, he “is going to continue to draw contrast” between both Democrats and Republicans but that “he has certainly found those moments to bring our country together and focus on the things that all of us can support and all of us can condemn as well.”
Trump earlier on Monday blamed the media for stoking “great anger” in the United States, accusing the press of harboring an “open & obvious hostility” even after he spent the weekend issuing calls for unity following a week of debate about political civility.
“There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news,” he said in the first of two tweets on Monday morning. “The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame of Anger and Outrage and we will then be able to bring all sides together in Peace and Harmony. Fake News Must End!”
Trump has issued sharp rebukes over the past several days in response to accusations that his incendiary rhetoric is to blame for the recent spate of violence.
And Sanders on Monday lauded Trump’s condemnations but complained that the media was too quick to point to him as a potential motivating factor, as CNN President Jeff Zucker did after the network’s headquarters was evacuated in the early stages of the bomb scare.
Trump has condemned both the Pittsburgh shooting and the mail bomb scare and in both instances said that the perpetrators would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Over the weekend, Trump also said he would not tone down his rhetoric and continued to slam his critics and complain about the media’s coverage of his presidency, which Sanders said she deemed warranted.
“I think it’s irresponsible of a news organization like yours to blame responsibility of a pipe bomb that was not sent by the president, not just blame the president, but members his his administration for those heinous acts,” she told CNN’s Jim Acosta. “I think that is outrageous and I think it’s irresponsible.”
“You guys have a huge responsibility to play in the divisive nature of this country,” she later added.
In an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash taped before the Pittsburgh shooting, Trump reelection campaign manager Brad Parscale said “it’s unfortunate” that someone could take Trump’s words as a call to violence but defended the president’s broadsides against his critics as necessary to win a “fight for the American people.”
“Do I think there’s a fight against the media and the Democrats? Yes, but I think it’s one that’s done with our heart and our minds and I don’t think it’s something that’s ever been done with a fist and I would never, ever believe that or try to do anything that would condone violence against anyone, any media, Democrat, anybody in this country and I don’t think this president does either.”
Sanders endorsed the White House’s decision to go on the defensive, saying in the press briefing that Trump’s approach wasn’t solely the result of an election season that has been turned into a referendum on his presidency.
“I defended the president fighting back when he is regularly attacked … It doesn’t matter if there is a midterm or not, he is going to defend himself and he’s fight back.”
Trump’s online comments early Monday followed an appearance by senior adviser Kellyanne Conway on CNN’s “New Day,” in which she sparred with host John Berman over who bore responsibility for the nation’s sharply divided political climate.
Conway said that political opponents of the president are guilty of divisive rhetoric themselves, referring to Rep. Maxine Waters’ calls to confront Trump administration Cabinet members in public. Conway disputed the idea that Trump might bear some responsibility, praising his response to a number of crises during his two years in office.
“This president, if you go back and read all of his words after every tragedy, even after the natural disasters that have happened on his watch, his words have been very moving and uplifting. They have been decidedly nonpartisan,” she said. “The president is trying to heal the country.”
Matthew Choi contributed to this report.