President Trump is known for his refusal to back down or admit mistakes, but he made a rare concession Friday — he almost said he was sorry. Responding to persistent questioning, Trump said he'd apologize for retweeting an anti-Muslim, far-right British political group.
The issue came up during an interview with the British television show Good Morning Britain. Piers Morgan, one of the hosts, pressed Trump to explain why he'd retweeted three anti-Muslim posts from Britain First, a group widely deemed within the United Kingdom as both radical and racist.
"Of course I didn't know that," Trump said. "I don’t know who they are. I know nothing about them, so I wouldn’t be doing that.”
And in an unusual move for the president, Trump also told Good Morning Britain, "If you are telling me they’re horrible people, horrible, racist people, I would certainly apologize if you’d like me to do that."
Trump came under immediate fire at the time for his November retweets of videos posted by Jayda Fransen, the leader of Britain First. One shows a boy on crutches being attacked by what the group labeled as a "Muslim migrant." The Dutch authorities who investigated the crime concluded the perpetrator had been born and raised in the Netherlands. Another video purports to show Muslims destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary.
"British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far-right, which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents — decency, tolerance and respect," a spokesperson for Prime Minister Theresa May said in response to Trump's retweets. The spokesperson also said Trump was "wrong" for retweeting the Britain First videos.
Stephen Doughty, an MP with the Labour Party, spoke out from the House of Commons, saying, "By sharing it, he [Trump] is either a racist, incompetent, or unthinking — or all three." Doughty called Britain First a "vile, fascist organization" and noted that its leader, Fransen, was a "convicted criminal."
After abusing a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, Fransen was found guilty of religiously aggravated harassment in 2016. She was also arrested in 2017 for a Belfast speech on charges that she had used "threatening, abusive, insulting words."
Trump's retweets aggravated U.S. relations with Great Britain. After May criticized Trump for posting them, he responded by suggesting on Twitter that she focus instead on dealing with domestic terrorism. Trump wrote, “Theresa @theresamay, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!”
And amid fear of mass protests, Trump canceled a planned presidential trip to London.
It may surprise some viewers to learn that the man who extracted an almost-apology from Trump was Piers Morgan. The long-time television presence has been a notable cheerleader on many occasions for the president, often taking his side when few others would. Morgan has defended his relationship with Trump, arguing that disagreements about policies shouldn't preclude him from having a friendship with the POTUS.
Morgan interviewed Trump in Davos, Switzerland, where the president is attending the World Economic Forum.
During the interview, Trump insisted that he was not a racist. “I am often the least racist person that anybody is going to meet," Trump said.
It remains to be seen if Trump's offer to apologize will do anything to move British support in his favor. In February, Parliament debated a petition that had garnered 1.8 million signatures to bar Trump from coming to the country on a state visit. A 2016 poll found that a full 85 percent of Brits had no confidence in Trump's ability to do the right thing in global relations.