Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer began his second briefing from the White House by referring to it as the “first briefing,” an attempt to downplay a statement he gave Saturday that contained a number of falsehoods in reference to Donald Trump’s inaugural crowd size.
Spicer began the press conference at 1:45 p.m., almost 15 minutes after former Apprentice contestant Omarosa reportedly gave reporters a two-minute warning. He opened with a joke that Obama Press Secretary Josh Earnest would hold on to his title of most popular press secretary for at least “the next few days,” which drew weak laughs from at least a handful of reporters.
“Good afternoon everyone, thanks for coming out to our first official briefing here in the Brady room,” Spicer said. “I was going to start with a little recap of the inauguration, but I think we’ve covered that pretty well.”
Spicer doubled down on several claims he made Saturday, which included an assertion that Friday was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period—both in person, and around the globe.”
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During that press conference, it seemed clear that Spicer was trying to claim that Trump drew record audiences on the National Mall, and that Trump also drew record audiences on TV. To that end, Spicer arrived at the Saturday briefing with two blown-up photographs taken from his viewpoint on the inaugural dais, apparently in an effort to refute the photographic evidence that showed the inauguration’s sparse attendance.
But on Monday, Spicer modified his statement after ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked if he intended to retract his claim.
“I said this was the total largest audience witnessed in person and around the globe,” Spicer said, dropping the word “both.”
Spicer also doubled down on claims that Trump had garnered a “five-minute standing ovation,” in a speech at the CIA on Saturday, telling reporters CIA employees were “hooting and hollering” during Trump’s speech.
But according to CBS, officials said the “uncomfortable” speech actually “made relations with the intelligence community worse,” and claimed the people cheering were actually Trump plants.
Authorities are also pushing back against the perception that the CIA workforce was cheering for the president. They say the first three rows in front of the president were largely made up of supporters of Mr. Trump’s campaign.
An official with knowledge of the make-up of the crowd says that there were about 40 people who’d been invited by the Trump, Mike Pence and Rep. Mike Pompeo teams. The Trump team expected Rep. Pompeo, R-Kansas, to be sworn in during the event as the next CIA director, but the vote to confirm him was delayed on Friday by Senate Democrats. Also sitting in the first several rows in front of the president was the CIA’s senior leadership, which was not cheering the remarks.
Spicer ultimately claimed, after being handed a note, that no Trump or White House employees were seated in the first three rows of the press conference where the clapping appeared to originate.
“If you listen to the audio of [the speech] you can hear the excitement that exists there,” Spicer said. “There’s some who have to be off-camera for obvious reasons but I think when you looked at the number of people that were there, the audio alone speaks volumes to what had happened. I don’t think that there’s any question about that.”
But Spicer’s golden moment came when CNN’s Jim Acosta—who Trump yelled at and denied a question during a press conference two weeks ago—asked why the administration felt the need to discuss something as petty as crowd size.
“Why make crowd size issue something to talk about at all? Why get into it? Did it bother the president that much that he felt that you needed to come out here and straighten that out for us? And why did he choose the CIA as the venue to talk about that?” Acosta asked.
Spicer responded with a seven-minute monologue about how hard it is when people don’t appreciate Donald Trump. Here it is, in its beautiful entirety—Freudian first-person slip-ups his, emphasis ours:
Look I think one of the things that happened, Jim, was that he kept hearing about this rift that existed. He talked about it a couple of weeks ago after his briefing, how proud he is and how much he respects the intelligence community. I think when he walked into that and he saw it, he wanted to make sure that people knew that what you’re hearing on television, or in reports, about this rift, ‘I, I have the upmost respect for you, I honor your service, I’m proud of what you’re doing, and the sacrifices that you’re making.’ And I think that he wanted them to know that what you see, and hear all this stuff on TV about this rift that’s so-called exists, and clearly it doesn’t matter. Like, ‘Don’t believe what you’re hearing. Know that I, I, I have a tremendous amount of respect for you, I appreciate everything that you’re doing.’ And I think that’s why he wanted to do it, is to make sure that they understand, they heard first-hand how much he respects them, how much he wanted to dispel the myth that there was a quote-unquote rift.
Spicer did not explain why Trump felt people in the intelligence community couldn’t figure that out without an explicit statement. (The reason: Trump has spent the weeks leading up to the inauguration insulting and lambasting the intelligence community.) But he continued anyway, sometimes stumbling over his words in his rush to explain his feelings.
I’m not going to get into conversations that I had with the president, butI will tell you that it’s not, it’s not just about a crowd size. It’s about this constant you know, “He’s not going to run,” then, “If he runs, he’s gonna drop out.” Then if he runs, “He can’t win, there’s no way he can win Pennsylvania, there’s no way he can win Michigan.” Then if he won, it’s no he—there’s this constant theme to undercut the enormous support that he has.
And I think it’s just unbelievably frustrating when you’re continually told, “It’s not big enough, it’s not good enough, you can’t win.” Because I think it’s important. He’s gone out there and defied the odds over and over and over again. And he keeps getting told what he can’t do by this narrative that’s out there, and he exceeds it every single time. And I think there’s an overall frustration when you turn on the television over and over again and you get told that there’s this narrative that “You didn’t win you weren’t gonna run, you can’t pick up this state, that’s not, you know, that’s, that’s a fool’s errand to go to Pennsylvania, why is he in Michigan, how silly, they’ll never vote for him, a republican hasn’t won that state since ‘88.” And then he goes and he does it and what’s the next narrative? “Well it must have been because of this, he didn’t win that.” And then, “Oh, people aren’t attending anything, or john lewis is the first person to skip his inauguration”—not true.
And over and over again. The MLK bust. I think over and over again there’s this constant attempt to undermine his credibility and the movement that he represents, and it’s frustrating for not just him, butI think for so many of us that are trying to work to get this out. And so I mentioned this to Jonathan, part of this is a two-way street. Like we—we wanna—we wanna have a healthy dialogue, not just with you but with the American people. Because he’s fighting for jobs, he’s fighting to make this country safer. But when you’re constantly getting told ‘That can’t be true. we doubt that you can do this, this won’t happen,’ and that’s the narrative when you turn on the television every single day, it’s a little frustrating. And I think that for those people around him, his senior team especially, but so many of the other folks that are either here or the administration, that gave up their time during the transition, they left a job to work for three or four weeks because they’re so committed to helping his nominees get through, it’s a little demoralizing to turn on the tv day after day and hear, “Can’t do this, this guy’s not going to get confirmed, no way they’re going to go through.”
I’ve been doing this a long time, you’ve been doing this too. I’ve never seen it like this Jim. And again, I’m not looking to go back and forth, but you’re asking for an explanation and I think it’s important to understand that whether it’s the president himself, the vice president, the senior team, the volunteers, or the people who are out there just in america that voted for him that walked the streets or put up a sign, that to constantly be told no no no and to watch him go yes yes yes every time and to come up to the next hurdle and see someone put a block up gets a little frustrating.
After that, Spicer he went back to discussing the crowd size, claiming it felt “demoralizing,”—a word he used three times—to see what looked like a big crowd from his point-of-view only to hear it disparaged on television. He also asked that the press stop covering Trump critically because it hurts morale. It was often unclear whether he was speaking for himself or the president.
And I think that we are—and and so you see this historic thing and he stands there at the Capitol and I was not that close, but you know on the platform and you look out, and all your—it’s an amazing view. And it’s just so many people, who got in long lines, who had to go around all this different stuff to get in—and that was for the first time that we did have to go through fencing, um, that far out—and then to hear, well look at this shot and it wasn’t that big? It’s a little demoralizing. Because when you’re sitting there, and you’re looking out, and you’re in awe of just how awesome that view is, and how many people were there, and you go back and you turn on the television and you see shots of comparing this and that—I mean—and then you look at the stuff that’s happening, the nominees that you put out, the Democrats stopping—there are two cabinet officials, ladies and gentlemen, that are taking their offices today. He visited the cCIA and a director that was considered a consensus candidate wasn’t approved. Where is the story?
That’s what I’m saying. You’re minimizing the point here, Jim. It’s not about one tweet, it’s not about one picture, it’s about a constant theme. It’s about sitting here every time, and being told, “No. Well we don’t think he can do that, he’ll never accomplish that, he can’t win that, it won’t be the biggest, it’s not gonna be that good, the crowds aren’t that big, he’s not that successful.” The narrative and the default narrative is always negative and its demoralizing. And I think that when you sit here and you realize the sacrifice the guy made, leaving a very successful business because he really cares about this country, and he wants, despite your partisan difference, he cares about making this country better for everybody. He wants to make it safer for everybody. And so when you wake up every day and thats what you’re seeing over and over again, and you’re not seeing stories about the cabinet folks that he’s putting, or the success that he’s having in trying to keep american jobs here, yeah, it is a little disappointing.
It’s not always gotta be negative, Jim. Some days we do do the right thing. some days we are successful. And part of this is saying when we’re right, say we’re right. When we’re wrong, say were wrong. But it’s not always wrong and negative. There are things, theres a lot of things that he’s done already, a lot of amazing people that he’s appointed, a lot of success that he’s having. And it would be nice once in a while for someone just to say—report it straight up—he appointed this person, here’s their background. Not why they’re not going to get nominated. Not why it’s not going to happen.
Apropos of nothing, Sean Spicer apparently eats and swallows several pieces of gum per day. He seems... unwell.