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After being widely rebuked for his response to the deadly clashes in Charlottesville, Va., President Donald Trump fired back at one of his loudest critics, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
"Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis & white supremacists and people like Ms. Heyer. Such a disgusting lie," Trump said in a series of Aug. 17 tweets.
Trump was referring to events in Charlottesville during protests surrounding a decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The city erupted in violence that would claim the life of Heather Heyer after she was struck by a vehicle driven by an alleged white supremacist.
Did Graham "lie" about Trump? We don’t think so. But we’re not fact-checking this, because Trump’s words drew an implicit moral equivalence between the groups that fell short of a literally saying they were morally equivalent. Here, we’ll lay out what Trump said, what Graham said, and let you decide for yourself.
In his first remarks on Charlottesville, the day of Heyer’s Aug. 12 death, Trump said there had been an "egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides."
Many people said Trump’s comment about people on "many sides" was as example of him drawing a moral equivalence between groups involved in violent clashes.
Trump addressed the subject again two days later, this time singling out the racism on display in Charlottesville.
"Racism is evil," Trump said Aug. 14, 2017, in a statement he read from the Diplomatic Room in the White House. "And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans."
The following day, however, Trump held a press conference and echoed his earlier claim that "both sides" had been responsible for the violent weekend.
"I think there is blame on both sides," the president said at an Aug. 15, 2017, press conference at Trump Tower in Manhattan. "You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now."
He also said the "alt-left" orchestrated at least some of the violence.
"What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right’?" he said. "Let me ask you this: What about the fact they came charging—that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do."
A day after the president’s Trump Tower press conference, Graham accused Trump of placing both sides on an equal moral plane, releasing a written statement.
"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," Graham said. "I, along with many others, do not endorse this moral equivalency."
"Many Republicans do not agree with and will fight back against the idea that the Party of Lincoln has a welcome mat out for the David Dukes of the world," Graham added. Duke, a former Republican Louisiana state representative who was once a Grand Wizard in the Ku Klux Klan, was in attendance in Charlottesville.
The following day, Aug. 17, 2017, Trump took to Twitter to dismiss Graham’s statement as "such a disgusting lie."
Shortly afterwards, Graham issued another written statement aimed at Trump’s handling of the Charlottesville chaos.
"Your tweet honoring Miss Heyer was very nice and appropriate. Well done," Graham said. "However, because of the manner in which you have handled the Charlottesville tragedy you are now receiving praise from some of the most racist and hate-filled individuals and groups in our country.
"For the sake of our Nation — as our President — please fix this," he continued. "History is watching us all."
Statement by President Trump, Aug. 12, 2017
Statement by President Trump, Aug. 14, 2017
New York Times, "Full Transcript and Video: Trump’s News Conference in New York," Aug. 15, 2017
Statement by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Aug. 16, 2017
Statement by Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Aug. 17, 2017