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Tillerson says Trump "speaks for himself" on racial violence

Cohn on Charlottesville

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated Sunday that President Donald Trump's values should be considered separate from America's values when it comes to race, appearing to repudiate the president's response to violence at a white supremacist march in Virginia.

Mr. Trump's statement condemning the "egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides" in Charlottesville drew criticism that he was morally equating neo-Nazis with the individuals protesting against them.

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Tillerson said the nation's commitment to fighting racial injustice was unquestioned.

"We express America's values from the State Department. We represent the American people, we represent America's values, our commitment to freedom, our commitment to equal treatment of people the world over and that message has never changed," he said.

When asked about Mr. Trump's values, Tillerson said "the president speaks for himself."

Tillerson was the second White House official in recent days to appear to more explicitly criticize Mr. Trump.

Last week, Trump's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, sharply denounced the president's response, telling the Financial Times that he wrote a letter of resignation but never submitted it.  

"This administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups and do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities," Cohn told the Financial Times. 

Cohn's candid critique of the White House comes after what he called "enormous pressure" to step down from his West Wing post, in light of Mr. Trump's divisive claims that the blame for the violence lay on "both sides," equating the efforts by white supremacists to counter protesters. 

"As a patriotic American, I am reluctant to leave my post , because I feel a duty to fulfill my commitment to work on behalf of the American people. But I also feel compelled to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks," Cohn said.

Those comments echoed that of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who defended the presidents statements after calls from his Yale classmates to step down from his cabinet position. 

"While I find it hard to believe I should have to defend myself on this, or the president, I feel compelled to let you know that the president in no way, shape or form believes that neo-Nazis and other hate groups who endorse violence are equivalent to groups that demonstrate in peaceful and lawful ways," Mnuchin wrote in a statement released on Twitter. 

Mr. Trump's response to the Charlottesville violence earlier this month also prompted a rebuke from a top United Nations body on racial discrimination, which urged the United States to "unequivocally and unconditionally" reject racist hate speech and crimes after the rally in Virginia and called on Trump to take the lead.

Tillerson previously condemned hate speech and bigotry more broadly as un-American and antithetical to the values on which the U.S. was founded and promotes abroad.