Sessions: Trump will have more to say on Charlottesville "maybe today"

Let’s hope he does, but Jeff Sessions is speaking for Donald Trump well enough in the interim. He told ABC’s Good Morning America earlier today that the Department of Justice will pursue “the most serious charges” in the wake of the neo-Nazi Charlottesville riot that claimed three lives. The “unequivocally unacceptable and evil attack … does meet the definition of domestic terrorism in our statute,” the Attorney General declared, and said he expected the president to make another, more specific statement on the riot as soon as today:

National security adviser H.R. McMaster told George Stephanopoulos the same thing yesterday on This Week. He also used the word “terrorism” and predicted that the federal investigation would take an aggressive stand in order to deter future such outbreaks (via Leah Barkoukis):

Speaking to ABC’s “This Week,” McMaster said “anytime that you commit an attack against people to incite fear, it is terrorism.”

One person died during the white supremacist rally after a car crashed through a crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring nearly 20 others.

McMaster said it was “a criminal act against fellow Americans. A criminal act that may have been motivated — and we’ll see what’s turned up in this investigation — by this hatred and bigotry, which I mentioned we have to extinguish in our nation.”

Over the weekend, the White House insisted that Trump condemned neo-Nazis implicitly as part of his “all sides” statement. That satisfied no one, and it appears that Trump’s appointees didn’t think much of it either. Neither Sessions nor McMaster offered a direct rebuttal to their boss, but their tough words clearly intended to calm the waters as well as declare their own personal rejection of white supremacists and the domestic terrorism incited in Charlottesville.

Sessions also reversed course on “all sides” on CBS’ This Morning, declaring “absolutely” that there was no moral equivalence between the neo-Nazis and the counterprotesters who rebutted “bigotry”:

In other words, “all sides” responses are no longer operative. Sessions’ tease of a new Trump statement means that the administration knows it can’t get by with implicit condemnation. They took heat from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and elsewhere after the “all sides” statement, and that has not abated at all in the two days since. Nor should it have; even someone as fawning as Anthony Scaramucci could see that Trump needed to be “much harsher” about the white supremacists that sparked the confrontation at the University of Virginia. It seems very doubtful that Sessions would have announced that Trump was preparing another statement without approval from the White House.

Perhaps Trump can get it right on the do-over. He won’t get much credit for waiting days to speak out against white supremacists specifically, and he shouldn’t. It’s still the best option now to dial down the anger over while Sessions works to prosecute those behind the riot.