President Donald Trump, a man who has quickly and bluntly called out terrorist attacks for years and slammed his opponents for being too sheepish in the face of terror, said Tuesday that he gave a vague statement about violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday because he wanted to wait for the facts.
The comment flies in the face of much of what Trump has said and done over the last two years, such as quickly labeling violence abroad as terrorism even before any official confirmation.
“I didn’t wait long. I didn’t wait long,” Trump said Tuesday when explaining his delay before condemning white supremacists. “I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement.”
He added: “The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement. But you don’t make statements that direct unless you know the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts.”
Then, in a moment that contrasted wildly with the Trump that Americans came to know on the campaign trail, the President said he didn’t “want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement.”
When confronted with potential terrorist attacks, though, Trump has rarely shown restraint.
Trump opened a speech on the campaign trail in 2016 by telling a crowd that “a bomb went off in New York and nobody knows exactly what’s going on.”
Then, in a nod to his “law and order” campaign pledge, Trump added, “But boy, we are living in a time – we better get very tough, folks. We better get very, very tough.”
The comment came hours before officials in New York revealed details of what happened or what was behind the explosion. Twenty nine people were injured after a blast in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood and the suspect was later arrested in New Jersey.
What Trump has said about international incidents
As president, Trump has also jumped the gun on international incidents, like in June when he labeled violence in the Philippines a “terrorist attack” just minutes before officials said it was the result of a suspected robbery.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and I will continue to give updates, anything happens, during this period of time,” he said. “But is really pretty sad what is going on throughout the world with terror. Our thoughts and our prayers are with all of those affected.”
Trump has also commented on terrorism that never actually happened.
Speaking before a Florida crowd in February, Trump stressed the need to keep “our country safe” and, in a pitch about strict immigration policies due to terror concerns, he lamented “what’s happening last night in Sweden.”
“Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden,” he said. “They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.”
There was no terrorist attack in Sweden the night before Trump’s speech. But later he tweeted a clarification, stating that his statement was “in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.” Fox News Host Tucker Carlson had interviewed Ami Horowitz, a filmmaker who has tried to tie Sweden’s taking in of asylum seekers to increased violent crimes in the country, the night before the rally.
The comment flummoxed people in Sweden. The Embassy of Sweden in the United States tweeted afterward that it was “unclear to us what President Trump was referring to, have asked US officials for explanation.”
His comments on Charlottesville
Trump, during a staggering, impromptu press conference on Tuesday, did label the death of a woman rammed by a car in Charlottesville terrorism.
“You can call it terrorism. You can call it murder,” he said, adding, “The driver of the car is a murderer. And what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.”
That was the first time, though, that Trump labeled the violence terrorism, something candidate Trump would likely have slammed his opponents for waiting so long to do.
“These are radical Islamic terrorists and she won’t even mention the word, and nor will President (Barack) Obama,” Trump said during an October 9 presidential debate with Hillary Clinton. “Now, to solve a problem, you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name.”
Though Trump said he waited to give a more fulsome statement because he wanted to get all the facts, one person close to the President said he seemed “distracted” and “irritable” on Monday, in part, because he had to be pressured into giving his more direct Monday statement by staff members and hated seeing it be panned by the media as insufficient.
That, the source said, soured the President’s mood, culminating in his contentious press conference with reporters in New York on Tuesday.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.