Trump's new press secretary gave her first briefing — and it was a disaster
New White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany gave her first briefing on Friday, an event she indicated would be one of many going forward. And it went about exactly as well as could be expected.
Which is to say that it was a whirlwind of lies, deception, trumped-up outrage, braggadocio, and deflection.
In some ways, it was an improvement over some of the worst performances of her predecessors (leaving out Stephanie Grisham, who never held a single briefing while on the job). She didn't begin in a completely combative stance, and she didn't verbally abuse or berate reporters. But we're not grading on a curve. A press secretary should be judged on their honesty, public service, and decorum, and on all three, McEnany was a disaster.
Early on in the briefing, she told the reporters: "I will never lie to you, you have my word on that."
But this didn't last long.
She warped and shaded the truth when she discussed President Donald Trump's recent tweets about protesters in Michigan.
"The president was referencing generally that in this country you have a First Amendment right to protest," she said. However, this is highly misleading.
As CNN's Daniel Dale pointed out, Trump was quite specific in his tweet: "The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal." This wasn't about a general right to protest; it was about a frightening event that included armed men menacing a government building.
Asked about the accusations of sexual misconduct against Trump, McEnany brushed them off.
"The president has swiftly denied all of these allegations that were raised four years ago. He's always told the truth on these issues," she said. She said the issue has been settled — and she slammed the reporters for even bringing it up — because it has been "asked and answered in the form of the vote of the American people."
Of course, a win in the electoral college doesn't settle the factual dispute about whether sexual abuse occurred. But even more deceptively, McEnany's question obscured the many sexual misconduct allegations that have come out since the election, including one of the most disturbing accusations: the account of rape from E. Jean Carroll. She first made the accusation publicly in June of 2019.
It's also preposterous to say that Trump has "always told the truth" about the allegations against him. It's exceedingly likely that Trump has lied about many of the cases, and some of his defenses have been provably false. For instance, he claimed he had never met Carroll, even though a photo showed them together.
When McEnany, unprompted, brought up the case of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — which has garnered extensive attention from right-wing media in recent days — she was even more directly dishonest. She claimed new notes produced in the case showed that an FBI official wrote about the interview with the NSA: 'We need to get Flynn to lie,' quote, and get him fired."
In a follow-up with a reporter, she was yet more explicit, claiming the FBI wrote: "We want to get someone to lie."
But this claim misrepresented the much more ambiguous statement that the note actually contained, which was: "What's our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?" Experts on federal law enforcement have argued that the notes show nothing out of line with usual typical FBI tactics — despite McEnany's claim that Flynn was targeted politically — though it's still worth debating the propriety of these law enforcement methods.
A reporter pointed out to McEnany that, regardless of the evidence produced, it's still a fact that Flynn pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI. Absurdly, after bringing up the case on her own, she said she didn't want to get "involved" in a discussion about it.
And then, by the end of the briefing, she decided to repeat some of the president's favorite lies.
She said the Russia investigation culminated in "$40 million of taxpayer money being lost and the complete and total exoneration of President Trump."
"The final total was $32M, per official figures," noted Dale, pointing out that the government "expected to recoup about $17M; Mueller report explicitly said it didn't exonerate [the president]."
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