Officials dismiss criticism that Trump rhetoric to blame for New Zealand attack

Officials dismiss criticism that Trump rhetoric to blame for New Zealand attack
© Greg Nash

Trump administration officials on Sunday pushed back against the suggestion that President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE’s rhetoric is partly to blame for the attack at two New Zealand mosques that left 50 people dead.

The main suspect in the shooting, which happened Friday, wrote in his manifesto that he supported Trump — something acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump's latest plan to undermine Social Security Trump says he'll decide on foreign aid cuts within a week Dick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report MORE and U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown downplayed Sunday.

But a range of Democrats — including Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibMichigan city declines to renew contract with ICE to hold detainees Former GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota Israel should resist Trump's efforts to politicize support MORE (Mich.) and Sens. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineA lesson of the Trump, Tlaib, Omar, Netanyahu affair Warren's pledge to avoid first nuclear strike sparks intense pushback Almost three-quarters say minimum age to buy tobacco should be 21: Gallup MORE (Va.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSteyer calls on DNC to expand polling criteria for debates Gabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch MORE (Minn.) — were critical of Trump, who has sometimes refused to criticize white supremacists.

Trump said Friday following the shooting that he didn’t believe white nationalism is a rising threat. 

“I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing," the president said.

In a manifesto that was more than 70 pages, the suspected shooter in the attack wrote that he supported Trump “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose” but not as a “policy maker and leader.”

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Mulvaney rejected any link between Trump and the suspect despite the manifesto.

Mulvaney declared that Trump is “not a white supremacist” and said attempting to blame Trump for the shooting “speaks to a politicization of everything that I think is undermining sort of the institutions that we have in the country today.”

"Let’s take what happened in New Zealand yesterday for what it is — a terrible, evil, tragic act — and figure out why those things are becoming more prevalent in the world," he said. "Is it Donald Trump? Absolutely not."

Brown also pushed back against the manifesto, saying during an interview on CNN's “State of the Union” that he gives no credibility to the suspect or the manifesto.

"I don’t give any credibility whatsoever to the ramblings of somebody who’s rotten to the core and clearly is an extremist of the worst kind who could walk into two mosques and, without any care whatsoever, kill people," Brown said.  

"I don’t give any credibility to it. I’m not going to read it. I encourage others not to read it. I’m not going to give him the time of day," he added.

Some Democrats, however, said Trump’s rhetoric has contributed to the rise of white nationalism and white supremacist violence. 

Tlaib, appearing on “State of the Union,” said that trend will continue if Trump and his administration “continue to stay silent.”

“The leadership, the administration, when they continue to stay silent, it's going to increase,” she said. 

“It will not stop until we send a loud signal and put the resources together to combat it and to stop it,” she added.

Kaine said during an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Trump needs to do more to call out white supremacy.

Kaine also criticized Trump’s rhetoric, saying the president uses language "very similar to the language used by these bigots and racists" and that he has emboldened white nationalists.

"When you see church shootings in Charleston, a synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, you see this hate-filled manifesto of the shooter in New Zealand who is murdering Muslims, we have to confront the fact that there is a rise in white supremacy, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim attitudes," Kaine said. 

"The president uses language often that’s very similar to the language used by these bigots and racists, and if he’s not going to call it out, then other leaders have to do more to call it out," he added.

Klobuchar, who is running for president in 2020, said she doesn’t think “you can … say what role Donald Trump played” in the New Zealand attack and other hate crimes that have happened during his presidency. 

But Klobuchar added that Trump’s rhetoric “doesn’t help” and that “at the very least, he is dividing people.”

“And he, at the very least, should be giving strong statements, public speeches defending Muslims in this world," she said during an interview on "State of the Union."

Without naming Trump, former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said U.S. leaders should "adopt a more civil tone" following the New Zealand shootings.

“There's a role for our leaders to play in raising the level of civil dialogue in our country and lowering the levels of extremist speech,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“Americans do listen to their leaders,” Johnson added. “And so as we enter this election season, I believe that the voters should demand that a prerequisite for office … is that our leaders adopt a more civil tone in what they say.”