As Republicans rallied around House Majority Whip Steve Scalise on Tuesday over his apparently unwitting attendance at a white nationalist event in 2002, a Louisiana political operative offered a different version of the story: that Scalise did not speak to the group but rather to a civic group that gathered at the same venue that day.
In a statement on Tuesday, Scalise acknowledged attending the white nationalists' gathering, calling it “a mistake I regret.” His office did not immediately respond to questions about the contradiction.
Kenny Knight, the former campaign manager for onetime Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, said in an interview that he invited Scalise to speak to the civic group in the same hotel room used by Duke's European-American Unity and Rights Organization, but that it took place hours before the start of the white nationalists' meeting. Knight said he secured the hotel facilities for Duke's group, then invited the civic association, which he says he led, to meet about a string of neighborhood break-ins and other local issues while enjoying some of the coffee and cookies set out for Duke's group.
“I basically gave him a town-hall meeting to address constituents about legislation he was working on,” said Knight, 65. “There were also other people who spoke before the civic association that day. One was from the Red Cross who talked about CPR. Another was Steve Scalise and there was a member of the local sheriff's department on instituting a crime watch group in our neighborhood. Steve and those folks spoke before the conference of EURO. It was not a EURO-sponsored event. I sponsored the event as president of the local civic association.”
Knight explained the Internet post of an apparent EURO attendee about Scalise's speech as “crossover in the hospitality room.”
“Some of the EURO members who came from out of town came to the hospitality room and sat in the audience,” Knight said. “Maybe a handful of the 25 people or so in the room were from EURO. The rest were all people from the neighborhood.”
In his statement, Scalise denounced the white nationalists' views, and House leaders including Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California spoke up in his defense, with Boehner saying in a statement that the No. 3 House Republican “has my full confidence.”
“I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold,” Scalise said. “I am very disappointed that anyone would try to infer otherwise for political gain.”
Duke said in an interview that Scalise probably would have known about the group.
Knight said he hasn't spoken to Scalise, his office, or any of his advisers.
“Maybe I need to call his office,” Knight said. “Steve was in the room for 15 minutes. He was not aware, nor did I tell him, there was a EURO association meeting. I told him it was a gathering of the civic association.”