48 hours of turmoil for the Trump White House

Story highlights

  • Donald Trump has been ensconced in New Jersey for a 17-day working vacation
  • The President returned temporarily to Washington and spoke publicly

(CNN)Even the walls of Donald Trump's private New Jersey golf club weren't enough to shield the President from the withering criticism he endured for 48 hours this weekend.

It was clear to some aides shortly after Trump's vague statement on Saturday -- where the President blamed "many sides" for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia -- that the President would have to say more. The criticism, from both Democrats and Republicans, was swift and direct. And every 140-character message Trump sent afterward only further intensified the heat on the President.
But as the pressure grew, Trump - ensconced in his club amid a 17-day working vacation - remained silent, forcing his White House to weather what amounted to one of the most trying two days of his administration, where Trump's vagueness left the door open to questions about his sincerity and left many to speculate why he was unwilling to condemn racists at the heart of the protests.
    The pressure, at this point palpable inside the White House, came to a head-on Monday in Washington, where Trump stepped to a podium and delivered a statement straight to camera. Flanked by Teleprompters as aides watched on, Trump said what Republicans felt he should have done two days earlier: "Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans."
    White House officials, eager to make the clean up statement on Monday look like something Trump wanted to do, argued that Trump made the decision to directly address white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK, but added that he was advised to do so by his new Chief of Staff John Kelly and others close to him in the White House.
    Trump also started his short remarks with positive economic news. Another White House official said the President wanted to give the "full picture" of how he sees things in the United States.
    The statement came after Trump was briefed on Charlottesville by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christoper Wray.
    The comment, in both content and delivery, stood in stark contrast to the statement Trump delivered in New Jersey, where he seemingly ad-libbed the now infamous line about "many sides" being to blame. Trump, without Teleprompter to guide him, touted his own economic achievements during his brief speech, mentioning employment numbers and recent companies that decided to relocate to the United States.
    "We have so many incredible things happening in our country," he said Saturday, "so when I watch Charlottesville, to me it is very, very sad."
    But it was Trump's out-of-character silence that did no favors for the men and women tasked with speaking for the President.
    On Sunday, as reporters gathered in the lobby of their suburban New Jersey press hotel, a White House official -- who asked to remain nameless -- dictated a statement looking to clean up the President's mealy-mouthed statement.
    "Of course," the official said, Trump condemns "White supremacists, KKK, neo-nazi and all extremist groups."
    "He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together," the official added.
    The silence also emboldened the men and women Republicans would have liked him to deride.
    Andrew Anglin, founder of the Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website, heralded Trump for not attacking them.
    "He didn't attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us," he wrote. "When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him."
    But shortly after Trump made his remarks Monday, it was clear the White House was ready to move on.
    Asked at a brief event later Monday afternoon directly why it took him so long to condemn racist groups, Trump hit back.
    "They have been condemned," he said. 'They have been condemned."
    When pressed, he quickly condemned the media, far swifter than he ever castigated white supremacists.
    "I like real news, not fake news," he said to reporters. "You are fake news."