United States President Donald Trump has offered a partial denial in public but privately defended his extraordinary remarks disparaging Haitians and African countries.
Trump said he was only expressing what many people think but won't say about immigrants from economically depressed countries, according to a person who spoke to the President as criticism of his comments ricocheted around the globe.
Trump spent Friday evening calling friends and outside advisers to judge their reaction, said the confidant, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Trump wasn't apologetic and denied he was racist, instead blaming the media for distorting his meaning, the confidant said.
Over the weekend, critics of the President, including some Republicans, blasted the comments made in the Oval Office on Friday.
In a meeting with a group of senators, Trump had questioned why the US would accept more immigrants from Haiti and "shithole countries" in Africa as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal, according to one participant and people briefed on the remarkable conversation.
The comments roiled already tenuous immigration talks.
"The language used by me ... was tough, but this was not the language used," Trump insisted in tweets on Saturday, pushing back on some depictions of the meeting.
But Trump and his advisers notably did not dispute the most controversial of his remarks: using "shithole" to describe African nations and saying he would prefer immigrants from countries such as Norway instead.
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the only Democrat in the room, said Trump had indeed said what he was reported to have said. The remarks, Durbin said, were "vile, hate-filled and clearly racial in their content".
He said Trump used the most vulgar term "more than once". "If that's not racism, I don't know how you can define it," Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said.
The African group of ambassadors to the United Nations issued a statement condemning the "outrageous, racist and xenophobic remarks".
Nana Akufo-Addo, the President of Ghana, said on Twitter that Trump's comments were "extremely unfortunate" and that his nation was not a "shithole country". "We will not accept such insults, even from a leader of a friendly country, no matter how powerful," he added.
Macky Sall, President of Senegal, tweeted that he was "shocked" by Trump's words, and that "Africa and the black race deserve the respect and consideration of all".
Akufo-Addo's predecessor, John Dramani Mahama, also criticised Trump's comments in a tweet, and referred to a speech made by Trump to African leaders at the UN in September in which he had praised their nations - but also mistakenly referred to a nonexistent country called "Nambia". Mahama's tweet used an altered image of an Oval Office meeting featuring Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to mock that mistake.
- AP, Washington Post