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President Trump Condemns Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting


I'm Lakshmi Singh, stepping in for Michel Martin with an update from NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. She has been monitoring the Trump administration's response to the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh today. Good evening, Tam.


SINGH: OK. So the Department of Justice has announced it will file hate crimes and other charges against the suspected shooter responsible for the deaths of at least 11 worshippers this morning. And President Trump called the attack pure evil, wicked and unimaginable. Tam, let's start with the hate crimes charges. What is the Justice Department saying?

KEITH: In a statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that hatred and violence on the basis of religion can have no place in our society. He said that the Department of Justice will file hate crimes and other criminal charges against the defendant - and this is significant here - including charges that could lead to the death penalty. He says, we will continue to bring the full force of the law against anyone who would violate the civil rights of the American people.

SINGH: As we said, President Trump condemned the attack in strong, unambiguous terms. And this is a president who has not always found the right words in times of national crisis. What else did he say about this today?

KEITH: So he held a rally tonight in Illinois at an aircraft hangar. And he did very clearly condemn anti-Semitism. He did it repeatedly. He did so in prepared remarks. And he tends to do better in prepared remarks than when he's speaking off the cuff. This is a little bit of what he had to say.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This evil anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us. It's an assault on humanity.

KEITH: Earlier today, he seemed to express some surprise that anti-Semitism isn't in the dustbin of history.


TRUMP: This was an anti-Semitic act. You wouldn't think this would be possible in this day and age, but we just don't seem to learn from the past.

KEITH: I don't know how far in the past he's looking because just last year in Charlottesville, Va., white supremacists marched through the streets chanting, Jews will not replace us. And one of them drove into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a woman. And in the aftermath, President Trump - at this point, speaking off the cuff, not from prepared remarks - said that there were very fine people on both sides.

SINGH: So he decides to go forward with a campaign rally today in Illinois. What reason did he give for not canceling it in light of the tragedy?

KEITH: In essence, he said he didn't want to let evil win. And he referenced 9/11 and the opening of the stock exchange. It was about a week after 9/11 - in his retelling of it, it was the very next day. But he simply said you just can't let the bad guys win. Here's what he said.


TRUMP: We have our lives. We have our schedules. And nobody is going to change it. OK? So we're here. So let's have a good time.


TRUMP: And if you don't mind, I'm going to tone it down just a little bit. Is that OK?


KEITH: So the crowd didn't want him to tone it down, and it turns out he didn't entirely tone it down. He then proceeded to deliver a pretty standard Trump rally speech. There was talk of the caravan, chants of build the wall. At one point, he mentioned Hillary Clinton. And he said it really fast and quietly like he was trying to make a point of toning it down. And then the crowd, of course, chanted lock her up, lock her up. Clinton is one of the people who this week had received an explosive device, had it sent to her as part of that attack. So one other note, President Trump says he is planning to go to Pittsburgh soon.

KEITH: OK. NPR's White House correspondent, Tamara Keith. Thank you very much for being with us, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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