Spicer apologizes for Hitler blunder

White House press secretary Sean Spicer apologized on Tuesday for saying that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler did not use chemical weapons during World War II. 

The spokesman stumbled earlier Tuesday while trying to shame Syrian leader Bashar Assad for carrying out a gas attack. But the comment drew widespread condemnation from people who said it minimized the gassing of millions of Jews during the Holocaust.  

“Frankly, I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust, for which frankly there is no comparison,” Spicer said during an interview on CNN. “For that I apologize, it was a mistake to do that.”

Spicer repeatedly said his controversial comments were a “distraction” from President Trump’s agenda. 

“My goal now and then was to stay focused on Assad and I should of and I’ll continue to make sure I stay in my lane when I talk about that,” the spokesman said. 

Spicer’s rare apology came after a firestorm of criticism from Democrats, Republicans and Jewish groups.

“We did not use chemical weapons in World War II. You had someone as despicable as Hitler who did not even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said during his daily press briefing. “If you are Russia, ask yourself, is this a country and regime that you want to align yourself with?”

While Hitler is believed not to have used chemical weapons on the battlefield, the Nazis used Zyklon B and other types of poison to kill Jews in gas chambers in concentration camps. 

The comments immediately reverberated online and Spicer was given an opportunity to clarify his them later during the briefing. But he bungled it by again making a comparison between Assad and Hitler, whom he said did not “gas his own people.”

“When it comes to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” Spicer said to audible groans from some reporters. 

The spokesman also referred to concentration camps as “Holocaust centers.”

Spicer followed up with a written statement that doubled down on his assertion he was not trying to diminish the Holocaust with his comments.  

“In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust,” the spokesman said. “I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.” 

Asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, whose parents are Holocaust survivors, whether he knew gas chambers were used to exterminate Jews, Spicer responded, “Yes, clearly I’m aware of that.” 

Spicer also dismissed a question about whether he has a credibility problem. The spokesman has repeatedly come under fire for his statements from the White House podium, such as when he falsely claimed the day after Trump’s inauguration that more people attended it than any other in history.  

“When you make a mistake you own it,” Spicer replied. “My comments today did not reflect the president’s.” 

His remarks about Hitler were widely mocked by Democrats and criticized by groups such as the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, which called for Spicer to be fired.

“On Passover no less, Sean Spicer has engaged in Holocaust denial, the most offensive form of fake news imaginable, by denying Hitler gassed millions of Jews to death,” said Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center.  

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) echoed those comments.

"Sean Spicer must be fired, and the President must immediately disavow his spokesman's statements,” she said in a statement. 

“It’s important to clear up that Hitler did in fact use chemical warfare to murder innocent people,” said GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin (N.Y.), who is Jewish.  

The U.S. Holocaust Museum tweeted a video of what American troops found when they liberated the Buchenwald concentration camps.  

Updated at 7:20 p.m. Jonathan Easley and Cristina Marcos contributed.