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Story highlights

The US's top military brass issued a rare public statement condemning racist violence

Trump's two business councils collapse after eight CEOs resign in protest

(CNN) —  

US President Donald Trump found himself more isolated than at any point in his presidency on Thursday, cast aside by business allies, condemned by prominent Republicans and the subject of a rare, if coded rebuke from two living predecessors.

The backlash over his failure unequivocally to condemn racism and white supremacy, in the aftermath of violent far-right protests in Charlottesville at the weekend, culminated in the rancorous dissolution of two business advisory panels and an avalanche of condemnation from across the political spectrum.

But members of Trump’s administration, some of whom privately expressed exasperation over his self-inflicted crisis, remained loyal in public. Vice President Mike Pence, who unexpectedly cut short a visit to South America to return for meetings at the Camp David presidential retreat, said he stood by Trump and his comments.

Republicans were divided in their response. Some condemned Trump by name, but others confined themselves to more general disavowals of racism and white supremacy.

Trump remained defiant on Thursday, castigating his critics in early-morning tweets, claiming he was misrepresented by the media.

The crisis was ignited by Trump’s equivocal response to the violence at a “Unite the Right” gathering in Charlottesville on Saturday. A woman was killed and more than 30 people injured after a car, driven by a “Unite the Right” supporter, rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters.

Trump first blamed “many sides” for the trouble, before issuing a fuller condemnation of the violence and white supremacy on Monday. But on Tuesday, at an impromptu Q&A at Trump Tower in New York, reverted to his initial equivocation, saying there was “blame on both sides.” His response has been widely condemned by political leaders across the country as well as internationally.

Key developments

Business advisory groups disbanded

Trump won the presidency in 2016 on his reputation as a business leader, pledging to work with the country’s corporations to “make America great again”.

But on Wednesday Trump announced he would be disbanding his two business advisory groups, after eight business leaders resigned in three days.

Announced with much fanfare earlier this year, they were intended to help Trump with his campaign pledges to create jobs across the country.

But from Monday morning, the chief executives who had agreed to be part of the groups began to resign in protest to Trump’s failure to denounce the Charlottesville marchers.

Kenneth Frazier of Merck was the first to leave on Monday, saying in a statement:”America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred bigotry and group supremacy.”

He was followed by seven other CEOs, including the heads of Intel, Under Armour and Johnson & Johnson.

Trump announced he was disbanding both councils unexpectedly on Wednesday. “Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!,” he tweeted.

Military leaders: “No place for … hatred”

Usually the United States top military personnel stay out of domestic politics.

But in the past few days, five of the US Joint Chiefs have come out in condemnation of the white supremacist attacks in Virginia.

“No place for racial hatred or extremism in @USMC. Our core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment frame the way Marines live and act,” Commandant of the US Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller said early on Wednesday.

None of the statements directly mentioned the US president or his statements on the neo-Nazi marches over the weekend.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson was the first to issue a tweet on the subject on Saturday, as the protests were ongoing in Charlottesville.

“Events in Charlottesville unacceptable and musn’t be tolerated @USNavy for ever stands against intolerance & hatred,” he said.

He was joined on Wednesday by Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Mark A. Milley, Air Force Gen. Dave Goldfein and Chief of the National Guard Bureau Joseph Lengyel.

Milley was adamant that nothing he is saying in his tweet is aimed at being political. “That is the furthest thing from my mind. I am not involved in domestic politics. I want good order and discipline in my ranks.”

Republicans condemn Trump

Some members of Trump’s party directly condemned the President for his response.

“Through his statements yesterday, President Trump took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members who attended the Charlottesville rally and people like Ms. Heyer. I, along with many others, do not endorse this moral equivalency,” regular Trump critic senator Lindsay Graham said in a statement.

Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain joined Graham, tweeting Wednesday “there’s no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate (and) bigotry.”

“The President of the United States should say so,” he continued.

Former US Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush joined in condemning the racist violence in Virginia. “America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms,” they said in a a rare joint statement.

While they did not mention Trump by name, it was a startling intervention from two former Presidents.

The Republican leaders in the US Congress and Senate, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, stopped short of denouncing Trunmp, but condemned racism and white supremacy in strong terms

Pence continued to support for the President. “The President has been clear on this tragedy and so have I,” Pence said during an appearance alongside Chile’s president. “I spoke at length about this heartbreaking situation on Sunday night in Colombia and I stand with the President and I stand by those words.”

Trump’s close aides divided

Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who is Jewish, has yet to comment on her father’s controversial press conference.

Requests by CNN for comment from Ivanka Trump and husband Kushner were declined.

Other Jewish members of the Cabinet have remained silent. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and top economic adviser Gary Cohn, who are both Jewish, stood near Trump as he made his controversial remarks, but have said nothing in public since.

Meanwhile top White House aide, chief strategist Steve Bannon, said in an interview published in progressive magazine American Prospect that white supremacists were “a collection of clowns.”

“It’s a fringe element,” Bannon told the magazine’s co-founder Robert Kuttner. “I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.”

A source close to Bannon told CNN the White House staffer had believed the conversation was off the record, rather than a formal interview.

CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Jeff Zeleny, Daniella Diaz, Zachary Cohen and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.