White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Friday did something her predecessor never did: She held an official press briefing.
“I will never lie to you. You have my word on this,” she said in response to a question from Associated Press correspondent Jill Colvin.
She also told reporters that they do plan to continue the briefings and she will announce “timing forthcoming.”
She said that she is “normally with the president in the Oval Office” in response to a query of how she will relay how President Donald Trump is thinking on certain issues.
McEnany succeeded Stephanie Grisham as press secretary last month. Grisham never held an official briefing, and the last one was held was in March, 2019. As CNN noted, that was 417 days ago. As they asked questions, a number of reporters thanked McEnany for holding one.
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Trump held his own briefings, night after night, with the coronavirus task force through much of March and April. But those were scaled back this week, in the aftermath of the president’s suggestion that injecting disinfectants could be tested as a coronavirus treatment. He later said that he had been sarcastic.
One of the first questions that McEnany was asked was about Trump’s comments about the coronavirus originating in a lab in Wuhan, and whether it is in conflict with a National Intelligence assessment that was less conclusive.
“Let me remind everyone, intelligence is just an estimate, and it’s up to policymakers to decide what to do with that intelligence,” she said.
For about 40 minutes, McEnany swiftly answered questions, and her experience as a cable news commentator, as one of the president’s staunchest defenders, was clear. At times she addressed not the press but the viewing audience.
She opened the briefing by playing video of Michael Heup, speaking earlier this week at the White House. He who is among the employees of a small business that hires people with developmental disabilities and was able to reopen because of a Paycheck Protection Act loan.
“Michael, thank you. You’re an American hero,” she said from the lectern. “Thank you for sharing that message of hope.”
But some of the same concerns among the members of the media remained: Her criticism of the way that China handled the early outbreak of coronavirus, for example, ignored the president’s own praise of Beijing during January and February.
Later, she was asked about Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer who is serving a prison sentence, and whether the White House intervened to prevent his release.
“No. Absolutely not,” she said, before quickly pivoting to the case of Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser. Even though he entered a guilty plea in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, recently released FBI documents have triggered claims by Flynn’s legal team that he was entrapped by federal agents. But there is some nuance to the documents, as agents deliberated how to pursue the case against him.
“There was an unfair target on the back of General Michael Flynn. It should concern every American anytime there’s a partisan pursuit of an individual,” she said.
But that only led to questions of whether Trump still thinks that Flynn lied. That was the reason that he was fired just weeks in the job, in February, 2017, after it was revealed that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his contacts with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.
Not too surprisingly, McEnany was asked about allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault that have been made against Trump. Earlier in the day, Trump told podcast host Dan Bongino that Tara Reade, who is accusing Joe Biden of sexual assault, is “far more convincing” than Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Biden appeared on Morning Joe on Friday and denied Reade’s claims.
“Leave it to the media to really take an issue about the former Vice President and turn it on the president and bring up accusations from four years ago,” she said. But there are other accusers since then, including E. Jean Carroll, who claimed last year that Trump assaulted her in a Bergdorf Goodman store in the mid-1990s. He has denied the claim.
What were the reviews? As many commentators noted, less important for McEnany was the media reaction, more important was how Trump viewed it. Right before she left the briefing room she got in a plug for the president’s Fox News town hall on Sunday evening — and the big ratings he got, night after night, when it was him behind the lectern.
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