Trump press secretary attacks China and WHO at first White House briefing

Kayleigh McEnany was less combative than the president, but channeled him on the coronavirus and Michael Flynn

Donald Trump’s fourth White House press secretary delivered a 30-minute briefing on Friday, ending a more than year-long hiatus for the once-daily occasions.

It was effectively a public debut for Kayleigh McEnany, whose immediate predecessor, Stephanie Grisham, never delivered a briefing in nine months in the role.

Recently, Trump has turned daily coronavirus task force briefings into multi-hour back-and-forths with the press. Taking the lectern for the first time, McEnany stressed that she would be speaking on behalf of the president and the highest-ranking officials in his administration.

“I’m around the president almost the entire day,” she said. “I was just with him before I left to come out and speak with you guys.

“I think my staff can attest to the fact that they have a very hard time finding me because I’m normally with the president in the Oval Office. So I’m consistently with him, absorbing his thinking, and it’s my mission to bring you the mindset of the president, deliver those facts so this president gets fair and accurate reporting and the American people get fair and accurate information.”

McEnany was less outwardly combative than Trump. She did not accuse White House reporters of being or peddling “fake news”. Nor did she say any outlet had terrible ratings.

Still, she repeated Trump’s main arguments. Regarding the World Health Organization and its role in battling the coronavirus outbreak, for example, she said: “The WHO appears to clearly have a China bias.

“I mean, you look at this timeline and it’s really damning for the WHO when you consider the fact that on 31 December you had Taiwanese officials warning about human-to-human transmission, the WHO did not make that public.

“On 9 January, the WHO repeated China’s claim that the virus does not transmit readily between people, that was quite apparently false. On 14 January, the WHO again repeated China’s talking points about no human-to-human transmission.”

Under fire for his own administration’s response to Covid-19, which as of Friday afternoon had infected more than 1 million Americans and killed more than 63,000, Trump has accused the WHO of slow-walking moves that could have prevented global spread. Earlier in April, he announced that his administration would halt funding to the organization, pending a review.

McEnany’s first briefing also landed on the day that Trump’s all-but-certain general election opponent, the former vice-president Joe Biden, publicly responded to an allegation of sexual assault by a former Senate staffer.

McEnany was asked about comments made by the president in an interview with a conservative radio host, that the allegation against Biden by Tara Reade was more credible than those made against the supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford or against Trump by numerous women.

McEnany framed the accusations as old news that had been cleared up by Trump’s victory in the 2016 election.

“He has always told the truth on these issues,” she claimed. “He’s denied them immediately and you’re bringing up issues … from four years ago that were asked and answered and the American people had their say in the matter when they elected President Trump as president of the United States.

“Leave it to the media to really take an issue about the former vice-president [Biden] and turn it on the president and bring up accusations from four years ago that were asked and answered in the form of the vote of the American people.”

McEnany also discussed Michael Flynn, the first of Trump’s four national security advisers who resigned after a brief spell in the role and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador. The president has indicated a potential pardon for Flynn, who has not yet been sentenced.

On the subject of recently unsealed investigative documents, McEnany was asked why she called the FBI investigation of Flynn a “miscarriage of justice”, given his guilty plea. Reporters, she answered, should more aggressively cover how the FBI handled the investigation.

Again, the press secretary – who earlier promised “never” to lie to reporters – sounded some of the same notes, in a the same tone, as Trump.

“Do you not consider it a miscarriage of justice when you have the FBI writing ‘We want to get someone to lie?’” McEnany said. “The answer’s ‘yes’ and I encourage the media to cover it, because I’ve watched a lot of your networks I’ve read a lot of your papers.

“I’ve seen a whole lot of scant information about Michael Flynn, when there was a whole lot of speculation about Russia, Russia, Russia, culminating in $40m of taxpayer money being lost, and the complete and total exoneration of President Trump.”

Most observers do not consider the special counsel Robert Mueller to have exonerated Trump in his investigation of Russian election interference and links between Trump and Moscow. Indeed, though he did not establish a criminal conspiracy or recommend charges of obstruction of justice, Mueller said he was not clearing the president. Trump and his allies have regularly claimed exoneration regardless.

It is unclear how often McEnany will appear in the White House briefing room. Trump press secretaries had their appearances scaled back after the president decided they were doing an inadequate job.

“As to the timing of the briefings, we do plan to do them,” McEnany said. “I will announce the timing of that forthcoming but we do plan to continue these.”

Her first appearance had lasted about half an hour, well short of Trump’s marathon sessions.


Daniel Strauss in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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