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‘All of Our Leaders Have Flaws.’ White House Defends John Kelly’s Comments on Robert E. Lee

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The White House defended Tuesday Chief of Staff John Kelly’s remarks that the Civil War happened because of “the lack of an ability to compromise” and that Confederate general Robert E. Lee was an “honorable man.”

Speaking at the daily press briefing, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders reiterated previous defenses of historical figures from the Confederacy which came up after President Trump made similar points in August.

“All of our leaders have flaws,” Sanders told reporters. “That doesn’t diminish their contributions to our country, and it certainly can’t erase them from our history. General Kelly was simply making the point that just because history isn’t perfect, it doesn’t mean it’s not our history.”

Kelly’s comment on Fox Monday evening that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand,” echoed various comments by Trump on the Civil War and racism in America.

Trump said in May that Andrew Jackson could have made a deal to prevent the Civil War; he was roundly criticized in August for saying that there was “blame on both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia; and he has argued that statues of Confederate leaders should not be taken down.

Sanders said Tuesday that it is “outrageous and absurd” for the press to “push that this is a racially charged and divided White House,” and she mirrored the president’s own language on Civil War history. “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” Trump tweeted in August, “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.”

“There are moments that we are going to be a lot less proud of than others,” Sanders said, “but we can’t erase the fact that they happened.”


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Write to Tessa Berenson Rogers at tessa.Rogers@time.com