Press Briefing by Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:17 P.M. EDT
MS. MCENANY: Hello, everyone. So I'm going to start with a few housekeeping announcements. First of all, the President's annual physical results are ready for release. The full memo will be released shortly. But in summary, the President remains healthy.
Also, I'd like to congratulate the winners of last night's primary elections. President Trump has now endorsed candidates and has a 64 to 0 record in congressional, special, and primary election races since the midterms, demonstrating the strength of and support for the President's agenda across the country as evidenced in the 64 consecutive congressional, special, and primary elections over the past 13 months.
So, next, I want to transition to talking about some of the things going on around the country. The First Amendment does not give anyone the right to riot. The First Amendment does not give anyone the right to loot. The First Amendment doesn't give anyone the right to burn down buildings. The First Amendment does not give anyone the right to deface property. And it does not give anyone the right to assault private citizens and to assault police officers.
The First Amendment, however, does give you the right to peaceably assemble. And the greatest example that we have seen of peaceful protest, an absolute embodiment of the First Amendment, is the March on Washington. On August 28, 1963, a quarter of a million Americans gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and peacefully made a powerful march and a powerful point: that all Americans should be treated equally; that racial discrimination was unacceptable, abhorrent, and that it needed to be rectified.
And in the famous "I Have a Dream" speech by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, he said this: "We must not allow our creative protest to de"- — excuse me, "to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force."
And soul force is exactly what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. met the nation with when he said this: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Important words, important actions from an American hero who contributed to making this nation the greatest on Earth.
With that in mind, we must remember to recognize the lives lost, the passing of George Floyd who was killed unjustly — in a horrific video that we all have seen. And we must also remember the passing of police captain David Dorn yesterday, who was shot and killed by looters in St. Louis, in an absolute tragedy. A retired officer, 77 years old, whose wife was also a police officer herself. Dorn was a hero and an unfortunate casualty in the riots we have seen. Our hearts are with his family.
We are all Americans. We must come together. We must unify. And we must have law and order.
And with that, I'll take questions. Weijia.
Q: Kayleigh, thanks. I have a couple questions. First on Secretary Esper. CBS News has learned that his remarks this morning were not received well here inside the White House. Had the Secretary ever expressed his views about active-duty forces to President Trump before this morning, in private? And does the President still have confidence in Secretary Esper?
MS. MCENANY: So, not that I'm aware of, in terms of expressing his opinion. And I wouldn't get into the private conversations that went on here in the White House.
And with regard to whether the President has confidence, I would say: If he loses confidence in Secretary Esper, I'm sure you all will be the first to know.
Q: But as of right now, he still does?
MS. MCENANY: As of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper. And should the President lose faith, we will all learn about that in the future.
Q: Thank you. And on policing: Vice President Joe Biden has vowed to set up a police oversight board if he is elected. Is President Trump considering anything comparable or any other specific legislative and policy reforms to address racial disparities in policing?
MS. MCENANY: So, there — there have been various things discussed here in the White House. I don't want to get ahead of the President as to what he ultimately determines. The President believes that most police officers in this country are good, hardworking people, and he notes that. But he also notes some of the injustices we've seen and the need to make sure that the appropriate use of force is used and that our officers are trained in that capacity.
Q: So he is considering some sort of federal oversight?
MS. MCENANY: There — there's been discussion of various proposals that we can look at, but no announcements on that front just yet.
Q: Kayleigh, you mentioned Dr. King. He, likely, would not have approved of what took place Monday evening across from the White House, as you probably know. If the White House, the President, and his team had to do it all over again, would you have gassed and pummeled protesters to clear the park so the President could have a photo op?
MS. MCENANY: So let me first address: No tear gas was used and no rubber bullets were used.
Q: Chemical agents were used.
MS. MCENANY: So, again, no tear gas was used, no rubber bullets were used.
Q: Why are you making that distinction?
MS. MCENANY: Let me —
Q: Chemical agents were used.
MS. MCENANY: Let me — let me back up and —
Q: We talked to an Episcopal priest who said she was gassed. Others say they were tear-gassed in that area.
MS. MCENANY: Well, no one was tear-gassed. Let me make that clear. That's been confirmed by DOD and by Park Services, as well.
Q: But chemical agents were used.
MS. MCENANY: So let me go back and address what happened because there's been a lot of misreporting.
First, I would note that these protests that were going on — in the morning, AG Barr had determined that we needed to expand the perimeter by one block on each side. He was surprised — AG Barr — when he arrived at the White House to see that that perimeter had not been moved. So he said that we needed to get going with moving that perimeter. He told the officers that out there. That was late afternoon. So that decision was made in the morning, first of all.
The protesters were told three times over loudspeaker that they needed to move. And what happened was it grew increasingly unruly. There were projectiles being thrown at officers. Frozen water bottles were being thrown at officers. Various other projectiles. And the officers had no other choice than, in that moment, to act and make sure that they were safe and that the perimeter was pushed back, because as we all know, a church was burning in that very area the night before.
So the appropriate action was taken.
Q: It wasn't — it wasn't burning when you cleared the area. That was over.
MS. MCENANY: It was taken — it was burning the night before, which — which would — which enforced the decision to move the perimeter on each side by a block so that church would no longer be in harm's way by the rioters.
But it's absolutely uncalled for to throw bricks; absolutely uncalled for to throw water bottles that are frozen at police officers.
Q: But don't you agree, Kayleigh, that the vast majority of those protesters were doing so peacefully, and that many of them did not hear those warnings and were simply just pushed out of the way, just forced out — pummeled out of the way by their fellow Americans, police officers?
You sent in members of the military to deal with this. I mean, what do you say to Americans who look at what happened on Monday and find that to be appalling?
MS. MCENANY: Well, let me note that the National Guard was utilized across Washington, D.C.; the military was not. There is a distinction.
And I would say that it is uncalled for to throw bricks at officers, uncalled for to throw frozen water bottles at officers. And they also had received intelligence that there were calls for violence against police officers, and they found caches of glass bottles, baseball bats, and metal poles hidden along the streets. When an officer is at risk, they have the right to defend themselves. They did so peaceably. No one had — there were no fatalities, no severe injuries.
Q: So you'd do it again?
MS. MCENANY: To protect the lives of officers, they have a right to defend and to protect themselves.
Q: And the White House —
MS. MCENANY: Next question. I think I — Sarah used to always joke about two-question Tuesday. I think sometimes I get four- or five-question Wednesday.
Q: That was — I just want to make sure that, you know, people who have a problem with what they saw Monday have a chance to have that addressed. I mean, what do you say to Americans who are just outraged by what they saw? And the —
MS. MCENANY: What I would say is —
Q: — for the President to go and have a photo op in front of the church and hold up a Bible?
MS. MCENANY: What I would say is this: Officers — officers have a right to defend themselves. And, you know, I have watched a lot of your coverage. I've watched a lot of —
Q: Protesters have a right to protest.
MS. MCENANY: — the nation's coverage. And let's go through some of the things that happen when officers don't defend and protect themselves:
In St. Louis, four police officers were shot. In Las Vegas, an officer was shot in the head and is on life support. In New York, a cop was beat up by people. In Providence, four to five police officers and state shoo- — state troopers were injured. In Asbury Park, New Jersey, a police officer was injured.
Police officers are out on the frontlines. They're defending and protecting you as you come into this building each and every day, Jim. We owe them honor. We owe them respect. And when they are under attack, they have the ability to defend themselves.
Q: So no regrets? No regrets?
MS. MCENANY: Zeke.
Q: Kayleigh, first on Secretary Esper's comments: Is the President presently considering using the — invoking the Insurrection Act? Or is that completely off the table at this point?
MS. MCENANY: So it's a very good question. The President has the sole authority to invoke the Insurrection Act. It is definitely a tool within his power. This President has one singular aim, and it is protecting America's streets.
We cannot have burning churches. We cannot have police officers who are shot. We cannot have businesses that are looted and destroyed. The Insurrection Act is a tool available. The President has the sole authority. And if needed, he will use it. But at this time, he's relying on surging the streets with National Guard. It's worked to great effect here in D.C. and in Minnesota as well.
Q: And, Kayleigh, back to that incident on Monday: Are you saying that all the officers who were at that protest clearing that largely peaceful protest were acting appropriately? There were well-documented incidents of — in one case, one member of law enforcement bashing the camera of an Australian journalism crew. This isn't about the journalists; this is about the other peaceful protesters there as well.
Did every officer in that protest — was that pro- — was that protest cleared in a way that the White House believes was entirely appropriate? So that should be the model for the rest of the country?
MS. MCENANY: I think the U.S. Park Services, when having bricks thrown at them and frozen water bottles, had the right to act. They acted with the appropriate level of force to protect themselves and to protect the average citizenry and to protect the peaceful protesters who were among them as well.
Q: And sorry, Kayleigh, here, they were protecting the peaceful protesters by firing various chemical agents and walking through them with batons and —
MS. MCENANY: Well, it wasn't tear gas, I would note. And it's —
Q: Chemical agents.
MS. MCENANY: And what they used —
Q: I chose my words carefully.
MS. MCENANY: What they used was a way to target those who were being violent. They used the minimal force that they could to ensure that that situation was safe, to ensure St. John's Church would not burn a second night in a row, and to ensure that no officers were injured in the manner that I listed off — that several officers have been injured and shot at in the course of these riots.
Q: Thank you, Kayleigh. I have a question about the decision-making process before going to church on Monday night. The President said on Fox Radio this morning that he never told anyone to push the protesters out. The Defense Secretary, he said something similar. So who at the White House did know? Or was this a unilateral decision by the — by the Attorney General?
MS. MCENANY: The Attorney General decided that morning to expand the perimeter, and that was a decision made long before the church discussion was ever under consideration. When the President gives an order, people act. It's not as if he's walked through each and every detail of how a plan goes about. He says, "I want to go to the church," he goes to the church, and everyone executes the plan in the order that the President puts into place. So the President is absolutely right in what he said.
Q: So was the plan still for President Trump to walk out there, even if the protesters were still there?
MS. MCENANY: You know, I'm not aware of the determinations that Secret Service had as they arranged for the President to walk out there. But I would just note again that the decision to expand the perimeter was a decision made in the morning by Attorney General Barr.
Q: Okay. And just one question about the coronavirus because we're still in the middle of the pandemic. Dr. Fauci –he said in an interview on Monday that his contact with President Trump had dramatically decreased and so had the frequency of the Coronavirus Task Force meetings. Is that accurate? And if so, why?
MS. MCENANY: There was a Coronavirus Task Force briefing just yesterday. We are constantly, as an administration, monitoring the coronavirus to protect the safety and wellbeing of the American people.
Right now, we all saw that church burn. We all saw some of the violence in the streets. And the President has had several meeting after meeting with AG Barr, Secretary Esper, General Milley to make sure that our streets are peaceful and under control while also monitoring the coronavirus and what we're seeing developed there.
Q: Thanks, Kayleigh. I'm confused. I mean, if the protests were peaceful on Monday, why did you all clear the area? And whose decision was to clear it later in the day? If Attorney General Barr wanted it cleared earlier in the day, why did it take so long for it to be cleared?
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, you know, he ordered it to be cleared Monday morning. It didn't happen when he arrived, so he immediately instructed the officers to ensure that it was moved back a block.
As we all saw Sunday night, it was not a peaceful protest. It was, in fact, a riot, with a church burning in Washington, D.C. The President made sure that Washington, D.C. was secure Monday night. And part of that involved moving the perimeter back to ensure that St. John's Church was protected.
Q: But that was a — that's quite a gap between the morning and then in the evening when you all walked over there. Why was there such a gap?
MS. MCENANY: Look, again, that's a question for AG Barr who made the order; it's a question for the officers who were on the ground at the time — why that wasn't deployed right away.
But when AG Barr came to the White House — I think it was early afternoon — he noticed that it hadn't been cleared, gave the order for it to be cleared, and that action took place.
Q: Kayleigh, why did the President feel it was important to go and walk over there, through the park, and to the church?
MS. MCENANY: It was extremely important. Look, the President wanted to send a very powerful message that we will not be overcome by looting, by rioting, by burning. This is not what defines America. And going and standing by St John's Church was a very important moment.
And I would note that, through all of time, we've seen Presidents and leaders across the world who have had leadership moments and very powerful symbols that were important for our nation to see at any given time, to show a message of resilience and determination. Like Churchill, we saw him inspecting the bombing damage; it sent a powerful message of leadership to the British people. And George W. Bush throwing out the ceremonial first pitch after 9/11. And Jimmy Carter, putting on a sweater to encourage energy savings. And George H.W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act, flanked by two disabled Americans.
And for this President, it was powerful and important to send a message that the rioters, the looters, the anarchists, they will not prevail; that burning churches are not what America is about. And that moment, holding the Bible up, is something that has been widely hailed by Franklin Graham and others. And it was a very important symbol for the American people to see that we will get through this, through unity and through faith.
Q: And, separately, Kayleigh — separately, the President, you said he had the results of his physical. We know that he did part of the physical late last year, I think it was. When did he have the rest of it done?
MS. MCENANY: I'm not aware of an exact date. I will ask Dr. Conley for you on that. But I know it was fairly recently.
Yes. I will go to Brett.
Q: Thanks, Kayleigh. The White House has spent a lot of time talking about how the protests have taken place and how people are protesting or shouldn't be protesting. But what is the White House doing to address the underlying causes that have led to the protests?
MS. MCENANY: Look, the President has done a lot. The President expedited the review — the FBI review of the George Floyd case. He swiftly ensured there is a civil rights investigation into George Floyd's death. Ahmaud Arbery — there's another investigation there on the part of DOJ.
He's recognized what an injustice this was innumerable times, including in his national remarks that he gave on Saturday. So this President has — the President has done everything in his power to send a powerful message that these injustices will not be tolerated.
Q: But does — does the White House or the President — have they reached out to any of these protesters to try and start a dialogue about specific reforms they'd like to see? Or does the President plan to do that moving forward?
MS. MCENANY: Look, the President has looked at some various — not legislative, necessarily, but tools that we could use to ensure that law enforcement uses the appropriate level of force. No discussions or announcements there on that front. But I will say that we're taking a hard look at this, but that the President recognizes that our police officers are valiant heroes. The vast majority are good, hardworking people who love this country and who love the American citizenry that they protect.
Q: So there hasn't been any outreach to the protesters?
MS. MCENANY: Emerald.
Q: Thanks, Kayleigh. Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified today on the Hill that he didn't read the FISA applications, and he didn't even prepare the scope memo that started the Mueller probe. Given that Rosenstein appears to be deeply involved in Crossfire Hurricane and that he actually picked FBI Director Christopher Wray, isn't it time that the Trump administration appoints someone else other than Wray for FBI director?
MS. MCENANY: Look, I have no announcements on that front, but what I will say with regard to the Rosenstein testimony is he said there was no "there there," and he now agrees with that text by Peter Strzok, who, you know, obviously had no information that — of Russian collusion, but nevertheless, strung us through this investigation.
And you have Rosenstein who — again, it's quite befuddling — said he wouldn't have signed off on the Carter Page FISA warrant that has his name on it. His name is on — signed on a FISA warrant to spy on the Trump campaign — that he wouldn't have signed off on that. And not only that, he wasn't sure that he read every page of it.
It's a pretty grave thing to spy on an American citizen, to violate their Fourth Amendment rights, to not have a basis to do so, and to rely on a Russian dossier full of lies as the justification. So it's really astonishing to hear from him that he's not sure he read every page of that warrant, but I suppose it's encouraging to hear with his 20/20 hindsight that he wouldn't have signed off on it, though I'm sure that's of no Carter — no comfort to Carter Page.
Q: Well, the President has expressed his disappointment in Wray in the past. So where does he stand now? Does he have confidence in Wray today?
MS. MCENANY: At this moment, the President, as — the FBI Director, much like the Secretary of Defense, is the FBI Director, is the Secretary of Defense. If the President decides he no longer has confidence, you guys will be the first to know.
Q: And then a couple — one more on New York, if it's okay.
MS. MCENANY: Sure.
Q: So, yesterday, New York Governor Cuomo made a pretty big statement saying that he — he might relieve de Blasio — Mayor de Blasio of his duties. Has there been any talk with Governor Cuomo about sending in the National Guard troops to New York? Or is there any plan right now to send National Guard to New York?
MS. MCENANY: The President will do whatever is necessary to protect America's streets. He has made that clear. And he has several tools. That is one of them — sending in the National Guard. He does have the ability to federalize the National Guard, should he choose to do that.
But I would note — and I'm very glad you brought up New York — the very clear-cut cases of D.C. and New York. D.C. was in chaos on Sunday night when you saw the burning of the church, when Mayor Bowser did not set the curfew as — she had it at 11:00 p.m.
The President said, "This is unacceptable." He's always preferred devolving to the states. They have the police power. It's their responsibility to protect the streets. But when the President saw that on Sunday night, he took action immediately. He surged the National Guard, encouraged states to accept their National Guard. He went on and on with several various actions. He gave a very powerful speech saying, "If you don't act, I will." He noted that the military would be on hand, should it be necessary.
His bold action, his swift action made D.C. a much different story Monday night. And contrasting the images of New York — or, excuse me, D.C. on Monday night and New York on Monday night, where there was rampant looting, where we saw Macy's department store looted, Coach store looted, violence in the streets — New York acted in a way that was inappropriate. They didn't deploy the National Guard. They set an 11:00 p.m. curfew, even after they saw the disastrous results in Mayor Bowser's 11:00 p.m. curfew.
And the President said, "I will call Antifa a domestic terrorist group." What was New York doing? New York was arresting people in burglary charges and then releasing 500 individuals after they had arrested them. So the weak-kneed policies of New York stand in stark contrast to the law-and-order policies of this President that has succeeded in securing this city as we've seen the last two nights.
Next, we'll go to Lachlan.
Q: Thank you, Kayleigh. Putting aside the conduct of individual officers, does the President believe that there's a systemic bias in American law enforcement against African Americans?
MS. MCENANY: The President believes that there are injustices, and he has pointed them out. And he has not hesitated in pointing out injustices, going back to his time as a primary candidate, when he called Sandra Bland and the use of force against her, in the video that we all saw, "terrible." He did not hesitate when he saw the video of George Floyd. He was really upset by that video, as I noted. He also — we've got the civil rights investigation into Ahmaud Arbery.
He points out injustices, but he also notes this: that our police officers are good people. I've seen them out there on the streets protecting people. I played the videos for you of the police embracing protesters, standing with the protesters. They're good, hardworking people. They protect our streets. That is what law enforcement is about.
And — but at the same time, the President will note and he will call out injustices. And this is a President who's not hesitated in doing that when the time was right.
Q: I know he's called out individual actions, but does he believe that the problem is systemic and endemic to American law enforcement?
MS. MCENANY: The President believes there are some examples of injustices. He calls them out. This is a President who, when Democrats, for so many years, talked about criminal justice reform and the disparities, the racial disparities in sentencing, it didn't — President Obama didn't do that. Guess who fixed that? It was President Trump with the FIRST STEP Act, who engaged in sentencing reform, and who really rectified some of the disparities we saw there.
So, you know, I think Democrats, others, Republicans should hail this President for calling out injustices when he sees them, either on a case-by-case basis or in the form of the FIRST STEP Act where he noted the disparity in sentencing reforms.
Q: There's been a number of explanations on the clearing of the park: one, that there was an attempt to enforce curfew; another that it was violent protesters, from the Park Police; DOJ saying that it was previously going to be done anyway. Can you explain to us what the reason from the White House's perspective was for clearing the park, why the White House wanted it done?
MS. MCENANY: So it wasn't the White House. As I said, it was AG Barr who expanded —
Q: Or the acting administration.
MS. MCENANY: It was AG Barr who said the perimeter needed to be expanded one block each way because we were not going to see the church burn another night. I've already gone through, in meticulous detail, with my friend Jim here how it came about that that perimeter was eventually moved. And I'm not going to —
Q: So you're saying that would have been done anyway?
MS. MCENANY: — repeat myself again. You can —
Q: That would've been done anyway? Even if there would not have been violent protestors, that would've happened?
MS. MCENANY: No, there were three announcements. So if the protesters had remained peaceful and had moved the perimeter as they were instructed to do, not one, not two, but three times via loudspeaker, it would've looked different. But when bricks are thrown, rest assured officers will protect themselves.
Q: Can I ask you another question? You said — the President said today that he went —
MS. MCENANY: Chanel.
Q: — down to the basement to inspect it over the weekend. Can you — what was the point of the inspection? What was he looking for?
MS. MCENANY: Look, I won't go further than what the President has said because those are security matters, and I won't engage on that kind of discussion.
Q: Thank you, Kayleigh. So going back to Rosenstein, what is the President's response to the fact that Rosenstein — neither Rosenstein nor Christopher Wray seemed willing to take responsibility for the illegal wiretapping that took place on the Trump campaign? I also have a question on the Insurrection Act.
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, I would say — look, the President is dismayed. This happened to the President's campaign. A campaign — a Republican campaign was spied on by a Democratic presidency, a Democratic administration, based on a dossier paid for by his opponent, Hillary Clinton, and the DNC.
This is absolutely extraordinary. It is the biggest political scandal that we've seen. And the lack of journalistic curiosity on this front is appalling. When you have multiple instances of people who were saying one thing under oath from the Obama administration, and saying another thing in public, that they had direct evidence of Russian collusion — I mean, that's extraordinary. Adam Schiff: "I've got direct evidence," when, in fact, we know there was none. And the Mueller report, after spending millions of taxpayer dollars, totally and completely exonerated President Trump.
It was a travesty, and we hope to get to the bottom of this because it should never be done again in American politics to any president of either political party.
Q: On the Insurrection Act, Secretary Esper, this morning, said that he opposes it. The last time it was used was 1992. If — how close is the White House to actually using the Insurrection Act? Is that a last-resort measure or is this a real possibility at this moment?
MS. MCENANY: Well, if you've noticed, the President has been going down a line of progression. And the first point was: Allow governors to do their job; allow mayors, like Bill de Blasio, to do their job. The police power, which is embedded in the Tenth Amendment of this Constitution, that's how this country is supposed to work.
Governor Cuomo is supposed to ensure that his state is protected. Mayor de Blasio is supposed to ensure that New York City is protected. They failed at their job. There was looting all across New York City. There were fires burning here in D.C. when Mayor Bowser was in control.
So this President, on Monday, took definitive action with that speech, saying: If necessary, the military is here. You must surge the National Guard. He took action, and he shored up and made sure that D.C. remained peaceful.
So this President will — has gone and said the National Guard is the next step. That seemed to be working here in New York — in D.C. We'll see if it continues to work. But rest assured, he has the sole authority to invoke the Insurrection Act. And, if necessary, he will do so to protect American citizens.
One thing I really want to note, just — and I think it's so important to go back to this because I haven't seen a ton of coverage of it other than in a few places. And I started the briefing with this and it's important. I just want to circle back and note Captain David Dorn, who lost his life in St. Louis, and he was killed by a looter. He served 38 years in the St. Louis Police Department. His wife, Ann, is a sergeant with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. He is a hero.
I also want to note, because there have been 45 officers lost in the line of duty this year, and my heart breaks for them. And as a new mom myself, my heart particularly breaks for two women in particular who I was reading about their stories today: Officer Breann Leath of the Indianapolis Police Department. On April 9th, 2020, she was shot and killed. She is survived by her three-year-old son, her sister, and her parents. She was a National Guard veteran. And my heart breaks for the family of Officer Leath.
And Officer Tiffany-Victoria Enriquez of the Honolulu Police Department — on January 19th, 2020, Officer Enriquez was shot and killed, as well, leaving three daughters, one grandson. And she was a U.S. Air Force Reserve veteran.
These are our heroes. Thank you so much to our officers who are protecting our streets. Many have been shot; some have been killed. It's a travesty. And let us stand with law enforcement and recognize the huge contribution that they have made to our society and continue to do so each and every day.
Thank you so much, guys.
END 2:45 P.M. EDT
Kayleigh McEnany, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/342091