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Trump hits back at CEOs over response to Virginia violence

U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions about his response to the violence, injuries and deaths at the
U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions about his response to the violence, injuries and deaths at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville as he talks to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON/CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — U.S. President Donald Trump hit back on Tuesday at business leaders who quit a presidential advisory panel in protest over his response to a rally by far-right groups that turned deadly in Virginia, calling the executives “grandstanders.”

Trump has faced a storm of criticism from Democrats and members of his own Republican Party over his initial response to Saturday’s violence around the rally in the Southern college town of Charlottesville.

Three business leaders quit a Trump panel in protest on Monday and on Tuesday, Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said on Twitter he was also resigning “because it is the right thing for me to do.”

Wal-Mart Stores Inc Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon, the biggest private employer in the United States with 1.5 million employees, said he would remain on the council “to help bring people together” but criticized the president. Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky also said he would remain on the panel.

“As we watched the events and the response from President Trump over the weekend, we too felt that he missed a critical opportunity to help bring our country together by unequivocally rejecting the appalling actions of white supremacists,” Walmart’s McMillon wrote in a note to employees Monday evening.

The note was later posted on a company website and accessible to the public.

Gorsky said in a statement that “...if we aren’t there standing up for our belief in diversity and inclusion, or if we fail to speak out when the situation demands it, then we have abdicated our...responsibility.”

Trump bowed on Monday to two days of pressure for a more forceful response, singling out groups behind the “Unite the Right” rally that were widely seen as stoking the disturbances. But he was still clearly frustrated over the reaction to his response.


“For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!” Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday.

The head of pharmaceutical company Merck & Co Inc, Kenneth Frazier, left the president’s American Manufacturing Council in protest on Monday. The CEOs of sportswear manufacturer Under Armour Inc and semiconductor chip maker Intel Corp, Kevin Plank and Brian Krzanich, followed suit later in the day.

On Monday, Trump had struck back at Frazier, saying in a Twitter post that now he had left the panel, the Merck executive would have more time to focus on lowering “ripoff” drug prices.


Criticism of Trump from within his own party has not abated.

U.S. Representative Charlie Dent said Trump’s comments on Monday, when he denounced neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists by name, were better than his “failed response” over the weekend. But it still looked “a little bit forced and half-hearted,” Dent told MSNBC.

A Democratic National Committee statement on Tuesday said in part: “The president should never keep the American people in suspense about whether he condones or opposes white supremacy.”

Former U.S Treasury Secretary Larry Summers hailed Frazier for taking a stand against what Summers said had been Trump’s “manifestly inadequate” response to the Charlottesville violence, and urged leaders in American industry to look to the example.

“Every member of Mr. Trump’s advisory councils should wrestle with his or her conscience and ponder Edmund Burke’s famous warning that ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,’” Summers, treasury secretary under Democratic former President Bill Clinton, wrote in the Financial Times on Tuesday.

After making his statement on Monday at the White House, Trump also lashed out at the media, where many commentators said his response to the unrest still rang hollow.


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“Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News media will never be satisfied...truly bad people!” he said in a tweet.

CNN has been one of the media most targeted by Trump for criticism. On Tuesday morning, he retweeted a cartoon that showed a train labeled “Trump” colliding with a person depicted as CNN and captioned, “Nothing can stop the #TrumpTrain !!” The tweet was deleted shortly afterwards.


Neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, which helped organize the rally, moved on Tuesday to the so-called Dark Web, a portion of the Internet that is not indexed by popular search engines, because its registration to use the open internet was revoked by GoDaddy Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

Texas A&M University said in a statement late Monday that it had canceled a “White Lives Matter” rally scheduled for Sept. 11 on its College Station campus. The event, organized by Preston Wiginton, a prominent white nationalist, had been set to feature white supremacist Richard Spencer as a headline speaker.

Saturday’s trouble erupted after hundreds of white nationalists converged in Charlottesville to protest plans to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee, commander of the pro-slavery Confederate army in the U.S. Civil War.

Street brawls broke out as the white nationalists were met by crowds of anti-racism demonstrators. A car then plowed into a group of the counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 other people. A 20-year-old Ohio man, James Fields, said to have harbored Nazi sympathies, was charged with murder, malicious wounding and leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

The Charlottesville violence appeared to have accelerated a push to remove memorials, flags and other reminders of the Confederate cause. Municipal leaders in cities across the United States have said they will step up efforts to pull Confederate statues from public spaces.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Scott Malone in Charlottesville, Virginia; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington, Brandon Shulleeta in Charlottesville, Makini Brice, Timothy Ahmann and Mohammad Zargham in Washington, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Frances Kerry, Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker)

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