Trump omits 'many sides' remark in defending Charlottesville statement at combative rally

PHOENIX (ABC NEWS) – President Donald Trump struck a hostile and defiant tone for the bulk of a campaign rally in Arizona Tuesday evening, railing against his critics and the media as he continued to defend his response to last week’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The president utilized much of his time recounting his actions in the wake of the white nationalist rally that left one woman dead in central Virginia. Trump assigned much of the blame to the “dishonest people in the media” whom he portrayed as having unfairly covered his condemnation of the “hatred, bigotry and violence” in Charlottesville — a denunciation he delivered the day of the rally, while also saying blame was present “on many sides.”

At Tuesday’s rally, Trump re-read the initial statement he made in the wake of the Charlottesville violence, but excluded the controversial “on many sides” line.

The president’s detractors accused him of being slow to specifically identify the hate groups that contributed to the clashes, recognition that eventually arrived in a speech two days after the rally.

“I hit them with ‘neo-Nazi.’ I hit them with everything,” said Trump. “I got the ‘white supremacists,’ the ‘neo-Nazi.’ I got them all in there. Let’s see. KKK, we have KKK.

“I got them all,” he added.

But Trump avoided mention of a combative press conference last Wednesday that amounted to a third review of the events in Charlottesville. Facing questions from reporters at the time, the president largely doubled down on his original address, assigning “blame” for the incident to “both sides.”

The event Tuesday night came after Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton expressed his disappointment in Trump’s decision to hold a rally organized by his presidential campaign committee following the incident in Charlottesville and appealed that it be postponed.

“I am disappointed that President Trump has chosen to hold a campaign rally as our nation is still healing from the tragic events in Charlottesville,” Stanton said in a statement on Aug. 16. “It is my hope that more sound judgment prevails and that he delays his visit.”

But the rally went as planned, with protesters gathered in the city’s sweltering heat before Trump arrived Tuesday, a fact the president downplayed once behind the lectern.

“There aren’t too many people outside protesting,” Trump told the convention center crowd at the start of his speech.

Eventually moving on from Charlottesville, Trump spoke of issues of local importance in Arizona, including illegal immigration and the status of his long-promised border wall. The president also addressed former Maricopa Country Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was found guilty of criminal contempt in July.

Trump previously said he was “considering a pardon,” though the White House denied it would be announced during the rally earlier Tuesday, a claim that the president abided by.

“Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe?” asked Trump of the man whose hard line approach to the detention of undocumented immigrants earned him national notoriety.

“I’ll make a prediction. I think he’s going to be just fine, OK?” he continued. “But, I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy. Is that OK? … But Sheriff Joe can feel good.”

The president further issued veiled complaints about the decision of Arizona Sen. John McCain to cast his vote against a Senate attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act — an effort that ultimately fell one vote short.

“We were just one vote away from victory after seven years of everybody proclaiming ‘repeal and replace,'” said Trump. “One vote away.

“I will not mention any names,” he added. “Very presidential, isn’t it? Very presidential.”

Trump’s visit to Arizona placed attention, not just on his relationship with McCain, but also with Sen. Jeff Flake who is facing re-election next year.

On Twitter on Thursday, Trump bashed Flake as “toxic” and a “non-factor in the Senate.” He also tweeted that it’s “great to see” GOP Senate candidate Kelli Ward running against Flake — an unusual move, since a president typically does not side against an incumbent of his own party in a primary contest.

As with McCain, Trump did not mention Flake by name, but after referencing the health care vote, said, “nobody wants me to talk about your other senator, who’s weak on borders, weak on crime. So I won’t talk about him. Nobody wants me to talk about him. Nobody knows who the hell he is.

“And now — see, I haven’t mentioned any names — so now everybody’s happy,” said Trump.

ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps, Benjamin Siegel and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.

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