The Department of Homeland Security instructed federal law enforcement officials to make comments sympathizing with Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who gunned down protesters, two of them fatally, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August.
According to documents obtained by NBC News, Homeland Security officials were given talking points, telling them what to say when faced with questions by the media.
The officials were instructed to describe the 17-year-old as someone who acted in self-defense after being attacked by rioters while helping defend small business owners against them.
Rittenhouse, a Trump supporter, travelled from his Illinois home to Kenosha on Aug. 25 with an AR-15 rifle. In video footage that was widely circulated on social media, Rittenhouse was seen shooting three protesters that night, two of which were later pronounced dead, as previously reported. He was charged with first-degree murder and his attorneys are arguing that he acted in self-defense.
'Lend More Credence to the Self-Defense Claims'
"Kyle was seen being chased and attacked by rioters before allegedly shooting three of them, killing two," the talking points instruct. "Subsequent video has emerged reportedly showing that there were 'multiple gunmen' involved, which would lend more credence to the self-defense claims."
The document also included instructions to officials to say that they would not comment on an ongoing investigation but to mention that Rittenhouse, like all American citizens, is innocent until he is proven guilty and that he "deserves a fair trial based on all the facts, not just the ones that support a certain narrative."
They were also told to bring the conversation back to the need to preserve law and order to bring an end to violence and avoid such "tragic" outcomes.
Trump's Refusal to Condemn White Supremacists
It is unclear whether any of the talking points originated at the White House or within Homeland Security's own press office. However, Trump has previously expressed sympathy for Rittenhouse, saying it appeared that he was in "big trouble" and was "trying to get away from them," referring to the protesters, who he said "violently attacked him."
During Tuesday night's debate, Trump refused to condemn white supremacy and instead blamed left-wing groups. The president told the Proud Boys, a right-wing group that has rallied in his support and against anti-racism protesters to "Stand back and stand by."
"But I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem," he said.