Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a strong supporter of President Donald J. Trump, said Wednesday he was not specific enough in his initial reaction to last Saturday's violent car attack by a driver in Charlottesville, Va., that killed a woman who was protesting white supremacists.
Bondi said Trump's widely-criticized statement decrying violence "on many sides" was "kind of a catch-all," and she said: "I think he needed to state the organizations, and he did." Trump did, two days later. He cited the groups by name in a prepared statement Monday and called them "criminals and thugs."
Speaking to reporters after Wednesday's Cabinet meeting, Bondi said she preferred the initial response by Trump's daughter Ivanka to the attack, in which she tweeted: "There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis."
Bondi noted that her office announced that it secured jury convictions in Lake City of two Ku Klux Klan members, both of them former state prison guards, for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in plotting to kill a former inmate who is African-American. "Racism is alive and thriving in our state and it will not be tolerated," Bondi said.
At least four times, Capitol reporters attempted to get Bondi to comment on the president's response to the attack, in which he first placed blame "on many sides, on many sides." After trying to walk back that statement, Trump on Tuesday appeared to lay equal blame on both sides.
"I haven't talked to the president since then, so you're going to have to ask him about those comments," said Bondi, who gave a prime-time speech for Trump at last year's GOP convention and who for a time was under consideration for a White House job.
Asked a second time, she said: "I don't know what he (Trump) meant by 'many sides.' I haven't talked to him." Asked a third time, Bondi said: "He's his own man .... Until I talk to him, I'm not going to comment."
She added: "The KKK, the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, David Duke will not be tolerated in the state of Florida, nor their actions. It's sickening to me that groups like this are still thriving in our state and our country and our world."
Bondi, a Republican and the state's chief legal officer, also said University of Florida President Kent Fuchs made the right decision in cancelling a planned Sept. 12 speech by white nationalist leader Richard Spencer at the Gainesville campus. "The First Amendment cannot overpower the potential violence that could be done to college students."