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Conway: Trump's Charlottesville remarks 'darn near perfection'

When mentioning "very fine people on both sides," Conway said Trump "was talking about the debate over removing statues."
Image: White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia
White nationalists march at the University of Virginia on the eve of a "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville in 2017.Alejandro Alvarez / Reuters file

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Sunday defended President Donald Trump's remarks on the 2017 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, saying that he had condemned white nationalism and that his comments have been misconstrued.

Trump "condemned white nationalism and neo-Nazis and the KKK during the Charlottesville incident," Conway said on CNN's "State of the Union." When mentioning the "very fine people on both sides," a remarks for which Trump was widely criticized, she said Trump "was talking about the debate over removing statues."

"He was not talking about the weekend at all," Conway said, adding, "If you continue the sentence, he says people were there who had not signed up with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists, who were there about a park being renamed and a statue being taken down."

Trump recently defended his remarks on the white nationalist rally, where a neo-Nazi killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and left dozens of others injured after driving into a crowd of counterprotesters, by saying his comments had referred to one of the reasons for the gathering: the removal of a monument to Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a city park. Trump's comments came in response to former Vice President Joe Biden's video announcing his presidential campaign last week, in which he blasted Trump's response to Charlottesville.

On Friday, Trump defended his remarks, saying he "answered perfectly" when saying there were "very fine people on both sides."

"If you look at what I said, you will see that that question was answered perfectly," Trump said. "And I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general."

"Whether you like it or not, he was one of the great generals," Trump added. "I have spoken to many generals here, right at the White House, and many people thought of the generals, they think maybe he was their favorite general. People were there protesting the taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee. Everybody knows that."

Pressed Sunday on whether Trump gave a perfect answer in his Friday comments, Conway said, "When President Trump condemned racism, bigotry, evil violence, and then took it many steps further and called out neo-Nazis, white supremacists, KKK ... that is darn near perfection."

"All white supremacy, all neo-Nazis, all -- all anti-Christianity, all anti-Semitism, all anti-Muslim activity should be condemned dead stop, full," she added. "That's the perfect response.”

Biden said in his announcement video last week that by referring to "very fine people on both sides," Trump "assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it."

"And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I'd ever seen in my lifetime," Biden added.

In an interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., criticized Trump's praise of Lee, saying the Confederate "was a slave owner and a brutal slave master."

"Thankfully, he lost that war," Clyburn said. "And I find it kind of interesting that the president is now glorifying a loser. He always said that he hated losers."

Pointing to the president doubling-down on his Charlottesville remarks, Clyburn added that Trump is "expressing what's in his heart."

Clyburn also said Biden was "absolutely" right to focus on Trump's Charlottesville commentary.

"I think that's what the crux of this campaign is going to be about, it's going to be about who can bring this country together," he said.

At the rally in August 2017, white nationalists and neo-Nazis carried tiki torches and chanted "Jews will not replace us," among other slogans.

Trump said in remarks to the media after the events in 2017, "You also had some very fine people on both sides. 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. 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."