A pained-looking Sean Spicer faced off with a disgusted Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday evening in a tense exchange that did not leave the White House press secretary in better shape following his outrageous claim earlier in the day that Adolf Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons” in World War II.
First, Blitzer just wanted to know why Spicer decided to make an analogy between Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and the perpetrator of the Holocaust in the first place. “As you know, 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, many of them with poison gas,” the CNN anchor reminded his guest.
“I was obviously trying to make a point about the heinous acts that Assad had made against his own people last week using chemical weapons and gas,” Spicer said. “And frankly, I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust, for which frankly, there is no comparison. For that, I apologize. It was a mistake to do that.”
That could have been it, but Blitzer—the son of two Holocaust survivors—was far from done. “Tell us who you’re apologizing to right now,” he said. “There are Holocaust survivors out there who were listening to what you said and couldn’t believe a spokesman, the press secretary for the president of the United States, would make such a statement. So just specifically, tell us who you want to apologize to.”
Spicer said he was apologizing not only to Holocaust survivors and their descendants, but “anyone offended” by his comments. He tried to pivot away from those comments and instead focus on President Trump’s action in Syria, but Blitzer wasn’t having it.
“Did you not know, Sean, that there were gas chambers where the Nazis brought Jews and others?” Blitzer asked.
He was aware, Spicer insisted, before saying that he does not want to be a “distraction from the president’s decisive action in Syria and attempts he is making to destabilize the region and root out ISIS out of Syria.” Blitzer declined to question why the Trump administration would want to “destabilize the region,” a comment that could be chalked up to another incidence of misspeaking by Spicer, had he not used the same exact wording during Monday’s briefing.
“It is an important clarification,” Blitzer told Spicer, “especially to those few Holocaust survivors still out there right now [who] were obviously very shocked to hear what you had to say, but I think it is very important that you came out to formally apologize and correct it.”
While Blitzer agreed to move on to a broader discussion of Syria, he was not done embarrassing Spicer, who once again had some trouble getting the name of the Syrian leader right. “Bashar al-Assad, I know you mispronounced his name a few times, but it is Bashar al-Assad,” Blitzer said as Spicer smiled tightly.
Asked later if the Holocaust “blunder” adds to his “credibility problem,” Spicer said, “No, I think this is why I’m here right now, Wolf. Clearly, as I said earlier to you, to your audience, when you make a mistake, you own it. My comments today did not reflect the president’s. It was a distraction from him. And frankly, misstated, insensitive, and wrong, and I wanted to clarify them as soon as possible.”
“I appreciate you having me on, but one of the things that I think is important is we all make mistakes,” he continued. “You’ve made mistakes. Other outlets, me, and everybody does. Hopefully we have a bit of forgiveness in us, and I hope that people understand when I make a mistake, I’ll try to own it and I’d ask people for their forgiveness.”