Sean Spicer apologises for ‘even Hitler’ Holocaust comment
White House spokesman had claimed German leader did not use gas on his own people
White House press secretary Sean Spicer has apologised for making an “insensitive” reference to the Holocaust in comments about Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
Mr Spicer said in an interview with CNN that he mistakenly used “an inappropriate, insensitive reference to the Holocaust”.
He said there was no comparison and “it was a mistake to do that”, adding: “It was my blunder.”
Mr Spicer had earlier attracted strong criticism after comparing Mr Assad and Adolf Hitler, claiming that the German leader never used chemical gas on his own people.
Speaking on Tuesday during the daily White House press briefing, Mr Spicer said: “We had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”
Mr Spicer made the comments as he fielded questions on the US’s military response to last week’s apparent chemical attack by Syrian government forces in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
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After he made the comparison, it was pointed out to Mr Spicer that Hitler had used chemical agents such as Zyklon B to murder German Jews during the Holocaust.
Asked to clarify his remarks, Mr Spicer said that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people the same way Assad used them”, claiming that Assad dropped chemicals in the “middle of towns”.
“In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. However, I was trying to draw a contrast of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on innocent people,” he said.
Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former US president Bill Clinton and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, was among those who criticised Mr Spicer on social media.
She tweeted that she hoped Mr Spicer would take time to visit Washington DC’s Holocaust Museum, which is a few blocks away from the White House.
The White House has become embroiled in an increasingly hostile battle with the Kremlin over last week’s chemical attack.
Russian president Vladimir Putin has insisted the attack was not carried out by the Syrian regime, but by rebels hoping to “provoke” the US into intervening in Syria’s six-year civil war.
On Tuesday, Mr Spicer said Russia was trying to shift blame away from Assad.
“Russia is on an island when it comes to its support of Syria, ” he told reporters.
Additional reporting: Reuters