White House Press Secretary Defends False Statements About Inauguration Crowds

And adds a few more questionable claims.


After making several false statements over the weekend about the size of the crowd at President Donald Trump’s inauguration, White House press secretary Sean Spicer promised to the media on Monday that he would never intentionally lie to them. Then he made more questionable claims.

“I believe that we have to be honest with the American people,” Spicer told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, adding, “Sometimes we can disagree with the facts. There are certain things that we may not fully understand when we come out, but our intention is never to lie to you.” But the promise came as part of a combative exchange, during which Spicer introduced dubious claims about Trump’s speech to the CIA on Saturday. And in response to questions about his own integrity, Spicer repeatedly blamed the press for being overly negative toward Trump.

Spicer brought up a mistake Time reporter Zeke Miller made on Friday, when he inaccurately reported that a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office. Spicer complained that Miller, who shortly after the mistaken report tweeted “my apologies” and “apologies to my colleagues,” had not sufficiently apologized.

“Where was the apology to the president?” Spicer asked. “Where was the apology to millions of people who read that thought how racially insensitive that was?” Earlier, however, Spicer appeared to accept Miller’s multiple apologies:

Next, Spicer repeated his claim that there was intense excitement among CIA employees during Trump’s highly political speech at CIA headquarters. Spicer claimed that the crowd of CIA officers had loudly cheered Trump, contradicting CBS News’ report that the cheering came largely from an entourage of about 40 people that Trump’s team brought to the address, not from CIA personnel. Spicer said Trump had only arrived at CIA with a very small group of people—he guessed 10 people—and that the cheers had come from CIA employees.

Spicer headed into Monday’s press briefing with his integrity in question, thanks to several demonstrably false statements he made to the press on Saturday evening (which were not the first time Spicer was caught in a lie.) Chief among them, Spicer wrongly asserted that the crowd at Trump’s inauguration was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period—both in person and around the globe.”

Toward the end of Monday’s lengthy press conference, Spicer conceded that the crowd in Washington was not the biggest ever and argued that he had never made such a claim. Instead, he said that by “both in person and around the globe,” he meant “total largest audience.” That’s not how his words were broadly interpreted at the time, and it’s not what Trump claimed in his speech at the CIA, where he stated, “It looked like a million, million and a half people.” (Experts in crowd estimation put the crowd size at a fraction of those numbers.)

Spicer also conceded that he had been wrong when he claimed Saturday that ridership on Washington’s Metro system was higher than for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration four years ago. “At the time, the information I was provided by the inaugural committee came from an outside agency that we reported on,” he said. “And I think, knowing what we know now, we can tell that [Metro’s] numbers are different.”

When asked about crowd size and his decision to deliver Saturday’s incorrect statement about it, Spicer repeatedly he returned to the idea that the administration is under attack by the media. “It’s about this constant, you know, ‘He’s not going to run,'” Spicer said. “Then if he runs, ‘He’s going to drop out.’ There is this constant theme to undercut the enormous support that he has. I think it’s unbelievably frustrating when you’re continually told it’s not big enough, it’s not good enough, you can’t win.”

  • Pema Levy

    Pema Levy is a reporter at Mother Jones. Reach her at plevy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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