President opens speech to Congress with generic remarks condemning wave of threats and hate crimes, but earlier told state officials that 'sometimes it's the reverse.'
President Trump offered a blanket condemnation of the recent surge of anti-Semitic threats and hate crimes at the very opening of his speech to Congress on Tuesday night, seemingly laying to rest the controversy over his ongoing failure to address the matter:
Tonight, as we mark the conclusion of our celebration of Black History Month, we are reminded of our nation's path toward civil rights and the work that still remains. Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.
Those generic remarks, however, were complicated by remarks Trump made earlier in the day – remarks suggesting the president believes the threatened attacks on Jewish communities around the United States are not the product of anti-Semitic terrorism, but instead are part of a campaign by his political enemies to make him look bad.
On Tuesday morning, he reportedly told a gathering of state attorneys general that “sometimes it’s the reverse” when asked about such incidents as the toppling of nearly a hundred headstones in a Philadelphia Jewish cemetery.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro told reporters: "He just said, 'Sometimes it's the reverse, to make people — or to make others — look bad,' and he used the word 'reverse' I would say two to three times in his comments," Shapiro said. "He did correctly say at the top that it was reprehensible."
The president reportedly promised the attorneys general that he would lay the matter to rest that evening, but his remarks in his speech did not clarify what he meant by “the reverse.” The denunciation in the speech was so generic, in fact, that it wasn’t clear who he believed was responsible for the “hate and evil in all its forms.”
Earlier, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt had requested some clarification of the meaning of his remarks to the attorneys general. “We are astonished by what the President reportedly said,” Greenblatt said in a statement. “It is incumbent upon the White House to immediately clarify these remarks. In light of the ongoing attacks on the Jewish community, it is also incumbent upon the President to lay out in his speech tonight his plans for what the federal government will do to address this rash of anti-Semitic incidents.”
"After weeks of our organization’s having to plead, cajole and criticize this president to speak out against anti-Semitism, we give him credit for doing the right thing tonight by beginning his speech to address anti-Semitism and other hate. But his suddenly dulcet tones weren’t matched by substantive kindness," executive director Steven Goldstein said in a statement.
"The president didn’t say exactly what he would do to fight anti-Semitism – how he could have stayed so vague? We’ve endured weeks of anti-Semitic attacks across America and we didn’t hear a single proposal from the president tonight to stop them," Goldstein said.
The claim that the “other side” is intentionally causing a wave of post-election hate-related incidents – which has reached 1,372 and counting – has increasingly appeared in the president’s responses to the press when queried about it. In his first press conference on Feb. 16, Trump shrugged off questions about the incidents:
And some of it — and can I be honest with you? And this has to do with racism and horrible things that are put up, some of it written by our opponents. You do know that? Do you understand that? You don't think that anybody would do a thing like that.
Some of the signs you'll see are not put up by the people that love or like Donald Trump. They're put up by the other side. And you think it's, like, playing it straight? No. You have some of those signs and anger that is caused by the other side. They'll do signs and they'll do drawings that are inappropriate. It won't be my people. It will be the people on the other side to anger people like you.
In response to a question about the threats against Jewish community centers, Trump said: "So here’s the story, folks. No. 1, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life," adding later, "I find it repulsive. I hate even the question because people that know me."
Former Trump campaign fundraiser Anthony Scaramucci also earlier Tuesday suggested on Twitter that Democrats were responsible for the threats against the Jewish community.
“It's not yet clear who the #JCC offenders are. Don't forget @TheDemocrats effort to incite violence at Trump rallies,” Scaramucci wrote, linking to a Breitbart News story.
Trump has also claimed that President Obama is secretly behind the recent protests at town halls faced by Republicans, as well as leaks within his administration.