Atlanta, GA—April 12, 2017
By: Jeffrey Albertson
By the time White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer sat down this morning with MSNBC host Greta Van Susteren for an interview at Newseum, an event evaluating the Trump Administration’s initial 100 days, he was well-steeped in the fallout from comments made at the prior day’s briefing. The episode would become yet another self-inflicted wound to the fledgling Trump Administration whose approval ratings stand at just 40%.
Yesterday Spicer remarked that “Someone as despicable as Hitler didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” When asked to clarify his comments by ABC Senior White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega, Spicer stumbled again—both falsely equivalencing and seeking a juxtaposition—by stating that the Assad regime did not use poison gas the same way as the deceased Nazi leader. “But I’m saying in the way Assad used them, where he went into the towns, dropped them down to innocent people,” presumably trying to draw a difference between the Syrian Air Force’s use of barrel bombs and the Nazi Regime’s use of “holocaust centers.” Apparently, “holocaust center” was a reference to Nazi Concentration Camps.
In a statement issued after the briefing, Spicer sought another clarification: “In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust, however I was trying to draw a contrast of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on innocent people.”
Tuesday evening Spicer appeared on the CNN’s Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer and apologized for his comments, stating they were “insensitive” and “inappropriate.”
At this morning’s event, Spicer’s contrition continued, “I made a mistake…There’s no other way to say it. Got into a topic that I shouldn’t have, and I screwed up…To make a gaffe like this is inexcusable and reprehensible.”
“Historically, it’s just wrong,” said Deborah Lipstadt, a leading historian of the Holocaust and a professor at Emory University in Atlanta. Mr. Spicer “should not be making comparisons,” Dr. Lipstadt said. “It’s, at the best, not thought out, and at the worst, shows a latent anti-Semitism.”
Spicer’s comments only added to the Trump Administration’s missteps on the Holocaust. The statement released on International Holocaust Remembrance Day failed to mention the Six Million murdered Jews or Anti-Semitism. At the time, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) criticized the White House statement was Holocaust denial by failing to mention that Jews were specifically a target.
Ironically, yesterday was 55 years to the opening day for the trial of infamous Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who is considered a significant facilitator of the mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and then extermination camps. Also, 72 years to the day that Buchenwald Concentration Camp was liberated by the Allied Powers in World War II.
The degree of humility is strikingly uncharacteristic of the Trump White House in general, but Spicer in particular. The comments could not have come at a more difficult time, considering this week is holy to both Judaism and Christianity. At the Newseum event, Spicer issued one last abject apology, “It really is painful to myself to know that I did something like that.”