By Ken Thomas and Jill Colvin, AP
WASHINGTON — White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has apologized for making an “inappropriate and insensitive” comparison to the Holocaust in comments about Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons — remarks that drew instant rebuke from Jewish groups and critics. Spicer said in an interview with CNN that he was trying to make a point about Assad’s use of chemical weapons and gas against his people Tuesday but “mistakenly made an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust, for which there is no comparison. And for that I apologize. It was a mistake to do that.” During the daily White House briefing, Spicer told reporters that Adolf Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” Critics noted the remark ignored Hitler’s use of gas chambers to exterminate Jews during the Holocaust. It was the second day in a row in which Spicer, President Donald Trump’s principal spokesman, appeared to struggle to articulate the president’s foreign policy at a critical time. The White House generated criticism at the start of the year when a statement on international Holocaust Remembrance Day did not make any reference to Jews. In the CNN interview, Spicer said his comments did not reflect Trump’s views. “My comments today did not reflect the president’s, were a distraction from him and frankly were misstated, insensitive and wrong.” He added, “Obviously it was my blunder.” The interview capped several attempts by the White House to clarify Spicer’s statement. During the briefing, Spicer was asked about his initial statement but delivered a garbled defense of his remarks in which he tried to differentiate between Hitler’s actions and the gas attack on Syrian civilians last week.
“I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no, he (Hitler) was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” Spicer said. “There was clearly … I understand your point, thank you. There was not … He brought them into the Holocaust center I understand that.” The comparison to World War II appeared to be part of a message the administration was trying to deliver as it explains its tactics in Syria. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis noted in a separate briefing that “the intent was to stop the cycle of violence into an area that even in World War II chemical weapons were not used on battlefields.”