President Trump was merely making a "rhetorical response" to criticism when he said he should have left three UCLA basketball players in a Chinese jail, according to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She said Monday that Trump was "happy to intervene" in the case and had been responding to statements from LaVar Ball, father of player LiAngelo Ball, who questioned how much Trump had helped, the Washington Post reports. "I think it was less about the players than the father of one of the Americans really seemed to have a problem with it," Sanders said. "Frankly, it didn't seem like the father wanted the president to intervene, which I think would have been a sad thing if he hadn't, most likely."
LaVar Ball doubled down on his criticism of Trump later Monday, telling CNN that if he were going to thank a president, it would be China's Xi Jinping. Ball said he had some people of his own "that had boots on the ground" when the three players were arrested for alleged shoplifting earlier this month. "If you help, you shouldn't have to say anything," he said of Trump. "Let him do his political affairs and let me handle my son and let's just stay in our lane." Ball denied being in a feud with Trump and wished him a happy Thanksgiving. "I don't consider him an opponent," he said. "I just consider him a human being, and the president of the United States." (UCLA suspended the players after they returned to the US.)