US President Donald Trump's lawyer fanned an already-incendiary racial debate by forwarding an email advocating protection of some Confederate monuments and claiming that the protest group Black Lives Matter had been infiltrated by terrorists.
Trump's lawyer John Dowd told the Washington Post he "shares a lot of things with people" and said it was unfair to equate forwarding an email with espousing its contents.
Dowd sent the email to Administration allies and journalists amid a firestorm over the President's remarks about the deadly weekend protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. Dowd, 76, a veteran of Washington political scandals, was recently hired to help Trump respond to an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Dowd confirmed that he forwarded an email that appeared to be written by longtime conspiracy theorist Jerome Almon. But Dowd stressed he was a history buff who has studied Confederate General Robert E. Lee, whose role in the Civil War is memorialised by statues around the US.
The email - entitled "The Information that Validates President Trump on Charlottesville" - appeared to echo and applaud the controversial claim the President made defending a central goal of the protest led by white supremacists. The group said it rallied in the home town of the University of Virginia to protest against the removal of a Lee statue.
Trump said at a news conference yesterday that white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan members were not entirely to blame for the violent turn of events in Charlottesville at the weekend, where a counterprotester was killed and 19 were injured. Trump's comments - and his reluctance to back off from those statements - have led to a political backlash.
The contents of the email, and the fact that Dowd shared it with government officials, conservative journalists and others, was first reported by the New York Times.
Dowd's forwarding of the email will probably stoke concerns among some presidential advisers that the Administration is endorsing a position offensive to many Americans.
Trump fuelled concerns by saying that some liberal, "alt-left" protesters marching through the college town were also "very, very violent".
"This week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down," Trump said about the statues of two Confederate generals that have been the subject of controversy.
"I wonder, is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?"
Almon, the apparent author of the email Dowd forwarded, is a 52-year-old man who has promoted himself as a hip-hop music executive based out of Michigan.
In the email Dowd forwarded, the author agreed with Trump's summary.
"You cannot be against General Lee and be for General Washington," the email read, "there literally is no difference between the two men."
It compared the two to Napoleon and Alexander the Great.
"Both were great men, great commanders and great Americans, " the email read.
Almon's email also blamed Black Lives Matter, a group that formed in the wake of several police-involved shootings of African Americans, for deadly violence against police last year in Texas and Louisiana.
Almon, who registered his business under the name Murdercap Records, was profiled by Rolling Stone in 2007 after he filed an "eyebrow-raising" US$900 million federal lawsuit against the Canadian Government, the US State Department and then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Almon claimed that he had extensive documentation of being racially profiled and illegally detailed while trying to cross into Canada to promote his music career.
"They're treating us as if we're criminals,'' Almon said, according to the Rolling Stone report in 2007. "If the Klan had a police force, it would be the border services.''
The lawsuit was dismissed in 2009, according to federal records.
In recent years, Almon has shifted his attention to politics.
After the San Bernardino shooting, Almon emailed reporters claiming that the shooter's iPhone was part of a vast government conspiracy and that the FBI's effort to seek access to the phone was a "charade for political reasons," according to copies of the emails posted online.