Two days after outrightly refusing to disavow white supremacists and right-wing extremism during Tuesday night’s disastrous presidential debate, President Donald Trump finally said he condemned the far-right group Proud Boys, the organization he previously told to “stand back and stand by.”
Trump has faced intense backlash, even from some Republicans and conservative pundits, after he seemed to give a wink-and-nod to racist extremists during the debate. Several Republican senators called on the president to walk back his remarks, which the Proud Boys quickly celebrated online by appropriating the president’s comments as a new slogan.
Following the debate, the president insisted that he didn’t know anything about the Proud Boys while continuing to equivocate when asked if he would denounce the white supremacists who support him.
Trump aides and surrogates, meanwhile, attempted to claim that the president actually did condemn white supremacy during the debate, pointing to Trump saying “sure” three times when moderator Chris Wallace asked if he was “willing” to disavow right-wing militias and racists.
Calling into close confidant Sean Hannity’s Fox News show on Thursday night, the president first took the opportunity to take aim at Fox News correspondent John Roberts, who grilled White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany earlier in the day on the president’s refusal to explicitly condemn white supremacists.
“I watched John Roberts screaming at Kayleigh,” Trump seethed. “Kayleigh was so wonderful the way she handled it. I watched him screaming, his wife—John’s wife—was saying, ‘What are you doing?’ Yesterday I made a statement that was according to most, a perfect statement. I’ve said it so many times, even beyond that.”
The president was referencing ABC News correspondent Kyra Phillips, who is married to Roberts. On Wednesday, Phillips asked Trump whether he’d disavow white supremacists, prompting Trump to reply, “Any form of any of that, you have to denounce,” without explicitly mentioning white supremacy.
“I’ve said it many times, let me be clear again, I condemn the KKK,” Trump declared on Thursday. “I condemn all white supremacists, I condemn the Proud Boys. I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that.”
He then went on to call for his Democratic opponent Joe Biden to condemn antifa, adding that the former vice president “doesn’t want to do that” and the press won’t “go after him.”
The president’s attention, however, soon shifted back to Roberts. Once again invoking the Fox reporter’s wife, Trump falsely claimed that Phillips “actually criticized her husband.”
“That was terrible,” he continued. “I mean, he went a little crazy—a little bit crazy. I saw it. I saw it and [McEnany] is just an incredible person. She was abused by John Roberts. That’s a terrible thing. Fox is a much different place than it used to be, Sean.”
Phillips took to Twitter to refute the president's claims.
“Well, my husband didn’t yell at anyone, including @PressSec he doesn’t even yell at the squirrels that eat all our birdseed,” she tweeted. “But there ya go.....”
Hannity, meanwhile, did not stand up for his colleague or offer even a mild defense, instead plowing right along with his friendly chat with the president.
Moments later, the president offered up a little more news. Confirming that close White House aide Hope Hicks had indeed tested positive for coronavirus, the president noted that he had recently been tested but hadn’t yet gotten the results back.
“Whether we quarantine or whether we have it, I don't know,” he stated. “We’ll see what happens. Who knows. I spend a lot of time with Hope. So does the first lady.”