President Donald Trump went off script and used his own words Saturday when he made that controversial decision to condemn "many sides" of the unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, rather than to single out white supremacists, two White House officials told ABC News.
"Those were his own words," one senior White House official said of the "on many sides" comment, explicitly adding that those three words "were not" in his prepared remarks.
This is the second time in two weeks that impromptu words from the president on matters of national importance caused significant headaches for the White House. Last Tuesday, the president used bellicose language not approved by his national security team to address the situation in North Korea, telling reporters that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would be met with "fire and fury" if he continued to make threats against the United States. That comment sent allies around the world into a mild panic, wondering if Trump was truly considering pre-emptive military action against North Korea.
Trump's penchant for improvisation on hugely sensitive topics brings into question the ability of his new chief of staff, retired Gen. John Kelly, to bring the White House into order.
Trump's words and his failure to call out specific hate groups Saturday drew such broad backlash that he was forced Monday to issue a clarifying statement, in which he said "racism is evil" and condemned groups by name, including the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.
But in his initial televised response to the violence over the weekend, Trump struck a different tone.
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides," Trump said Saturday from his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey. Looking directly at the camera, he repeated, "On many sides."