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Analysis: Breaking down the facts and the politics of Trump’s “both sides” remarks

WASHINGTON — President Trump blamed “both sides” for the weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Tuesday while taking questions from reporters.

“I watched this very closely, much more closely than you people watched it and you have, 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 on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent,” Mr. Trump said.

CBS News reporter Paula Reid was on the ground in Charlottesville during the demonstrations, and told anchor Anthony Mason that she has a different view of what happened.

“Pretty much every white supremacist demonstrator they saw had some sort of weapon, either a helmet, a shield, a firearm, a baton. As for the counter-protesters, I would say most of them were unarmed. Many of them were members of the clergy or they were students,” Reid said on the “CBS Evening News.”

“Now, there were certainly some people who were there as counter-demonstrators who were there to cause trouble, but overwhelmingly, the counter-protesters were unarme,” she continued.

Reid also noted that the counter-demonstrators were the only ones she saw providing medical aid to people who were hit with chemical agents.

According to Reid, it was also clear that most of the objects being thrown into the crowd of counter-demonstrators were coming from the park containing Robert E. Lee’s statue, which the white supremacists had been holding throughout the day.

“It was clear that for every one counter-demonstrater flag you could see, there were 10 Confederate, or white supremacist flags,” Reid said. 

While the protests had been scheduled to start Saturday, they actually began on Friday night, which almost helped to embolden them, Reid said. “They got to the rally several hours early and were already pretty ramped up,” Reid said. 

Also on the “CBS Evening News,” John Dickerson, CBS News chief Washington correspondent and anchor of “Face The Nation,” said he felt that Mr. Trump’s comments were more about assigning blame to those on the left than showing a “moral disgust” to the neo-Nazi demonstrators. That, Dickerson said, “repeated and made worse his moral failure from Saturday.”

“Presidents are supposed to rush into these moments and unify Americans,” Dickerson said. “But the president, by bringing that statement and continuing to try to defend himself, was continuing an argument and saying both sides were to blame. He wanted to make sure he was right about the details, but then when he characterized the protesters, he totally overlooked the Nazi slogans and flags and salutes.”

Moving forward, Dickerson said that Mr. Trump’s comments will likely do him political harm.

“The president won office and was heralded by many of his supporters by speaking bluntly, by speak truths, by not bothering with the niceties, so his reluctance to do that here, to speak the essential truth about the neo-Nazi protesters who were chanting those Nazi slogans, that is a failing that he has now repeated twice,” Dickerson said.

Mr. Trump had a moment like this during the primaries that rattled Republican leaders, Dickerson said, and now “Republican leaders will now have to distance themselves from the president, and the question is how they get back together again.”


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