Press Briefing by Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:17 P.M. EDT
MS. MCENANY: Good afternoon, everyone. The President has made clear that what we are seeing on America's streets is unacceptable. Violence, looting, anarchy, lawlessness are not to be tolerated, plain and simple. These criminal acts are not protest. They are not statements. These are crimes that harm innocent American citizens.
The First Amendment guarantees the right of the people to peaceably assemble. What we saw last night in Washington and across the country was not that.
To that end, President Trump is demanding action to protect American citizens, to protect American businesses. Seventeen thousand National Guard are deployed in 24 states, but according to General Milley, only two states have deployed more than 1,000. There are 350,000 National Guard available overall, and for the lawlessness we are seeing, far more needs to be done.
Governors across the country must act, deploy the National Guard as it's fit, and protect American communities. As President Trump has said repeatedly, it's very important that we have peaceful protesters and support the rights of peaceful protesters, but we cannot allow a situation like what happened in Minneapolis to descend further into lawless anarchy and chaos, and we understand that very well.
And with that, I'll take questions.
MS. MCENANY: Yes.
Q: To your point, the country is in crisis. There's a global pandemic that has claimed more than 100,000 lives. At least 40 million people are unemployed. There are now protests and racial tension ripping apart many cities. Where is the President? Why has he not delivered an address to the nation, as many of his predecessors have in a time of domestic crisis?
MS. MCENANY: So the President has delivered multiple statements on this. The President, as recently as 48 hours ago, was out talking about what a tragedy the death of George Floyd was, how it has weighed on his heart, and how he encourages peace and lawfulness in our streets and peaceful protest. So he has said that repeatedly. He's made many statements to this effect.
But what I would note is: Continual statements — as he's made day and day and day and day again — they don't stop anarchy. What stops anarchy is action, and that's what the President is working on right now.
Q: To that point about the anarchists, you said this morning that the President is focused right now on rooting out Antifa. George Floyd did not die in Antifa custody; he died in police custody. What's the President doing to reform policing tactics and excessive use of force by police?
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, so it's an important question, for sure. And this President, if you look at the actions his DOJ has taken, there's a civil rights investigation into the death of Ahmaud Arbery. There's a civil rights investigation into the death of George Floyd. It is a tragedy what we saw.
I mentioned, too, that the President was extremely upset when he saw that video, and he continues to — the DOJ continues to pursue those charges. And he's recognized injustices for a long time, since he was a candidate. He talked about Sandra Bland and what a terrible video that was, too. So he recognizes injustices where they are.
But at the same time, he also recognizes that we can't allow organized groups, like Antifa, to commit some of the heinous acts that we've seen.
Q: Yes, Kayleigh, in this call with the governors, the President said that he had put General Milley in charge of all this. What does that mean?
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, so —
Q: Putting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in charge of policing American streets, what did he mean?
MS. MCENANY: So I'm not going to get ahead of any actions that will be announced. But what I will say to you is this: that he has had two briefings today with Secretary Esper and AG Barr, and General Milley was there. And there will be additional federal assets deployed across the nation. There will be a central command center, in conjunction with the state and local governments. That will include General Milley, Secretary Esper, and AG Barr. But I won't go any further in announcing what actions.
Q: But can you explain what the President meant when he told the governors, "I have put General Milley in charge"? What does that mean? Because that sounds like a total break here: the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff being in charge of a domestic issue.
MS. MCENANY: In ensuring that, as the President has said — and this has been taken out of context, by the way — that our streets are
Q: What's — what's taken —
MS. MCENANY: — dominated with a police force and with a National Guard presence, so that — let me explain a little bit about how this works. If there's a peaceful protest, police will form a line. And what we've seen are those lines have been overwhelmed by massive protests that have turned into riots — the peaceful protest to be distinguished from the riots we've seen. And when those lines are overwhelmed, law enforcement gets on the defense.
So what the President has said is he wants to dominate the streets with National Guard, with a police presence. And what studies have shown, as General Milley noted — he was in that governors call, and his — his points all pertained to the National Guard, and he noted that there are several studies that when there's an overwhelming National Guard presence, it actually deescalates the situation and causes less civil unrest.
So General Milley has really been on point in talking about the National Guard, the effectiveness in ensuring that they're utilized to great effect across the country.
Q: But what's been taken out of context? Because I — I mean, I have the exact quote. It's a very simple one. He just says that he has put General Milley in charge.
MS. MCENANY: No, not — I wasn't suggesting that quote was out of context. The "dominate" — I've seen some networks that have talked about —
Q: Oh, "dominate." Okay.
MS. MCENANY: — dominating protesters. And I've been around the President all day, and anytime he's used the word "dominate," it was with regard to dominating the streets and ensuring that we have peace in our streets.
Yes. Yes, Darlene.
Q: Thanks. In addition to the tough talk the President has been talking about — taking action against looters and some of the violent elements in the protests that we've seen — why isn't he also supplementing that message by calling on these people to remain calm, to go home, to not destroy property, businesses, so on?
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, he has done that repeatedly. Look, he talked about understanding the pain that people are feeling, and he does understand that pain. He's talked several times about the right to peacefully protest. And I've seen some of these peaceful protests, some of these sit-ins, and it's a real shame when you have anarchy and anarchists come in and you have Antifa come in, and it really dilutes the message of the protesters. And it's a legitimate reason they're protesting.
So he hates to see Antifa come in and really dampen that message, which has been, in many cases, peaceful, but has been overtaken and overwhelmed by an organized effort of people from out of state coming in and causing havoc.
Q: And one other question. Is he traveling on Friday? Is he going to Maine?
MS. MCENANY: He still plans on going to Maine. I haven't heard any other changes to that effect. Yeah.
Q: Hi, Kayleigh. Thank you.
MS. MCENANY: I like your mask. That's really cool.
Q: Thank you. I have a quick follow-up about police reform. National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien says he does not think there is systemic racism among law enforcement in the U.S. Does President Trump share that view?
MS. MCENANY: Look, I think where the President stands is he does not believe — he fundamentally rejects the idea that these egregious actions of these four Minnesota officers are representative of our police force as a whole. Most of our officers in this country are good, hard-working men and women who work every day to police our streets.
He's recognized cases of injustice. I noted Sandra Bland, back when he was in the primary. I've noted, more recently, Ahmaud Arbery and then George Floyd. So he recognizes these injustices. He puts a focus on them, but he also recognizes our valiant police officers who have taken to the streets each and every night over the last six nights and protected our communities.
Q: And on Antifa: Can you explain what the legal authority the President has — is for designating Antifa as a terrorist organization? And can you also talk about why he does not want to label white supremacist groups that are domestically located as terrorist organizations as well?
MS. MCENANY: So let me address the first part about legal authority. Title 18, Section 2331 allows that the term — it defines domestic terrorism as involving "acts dangerous to human life that…appear…intended to influence the policy of a government…" And other elements are laid out. And it allows the Department of Justice, when utilizing this statute, to invoke greater investigatory authority and to invoke harsher — harsher penalties.
I would note that the Justice Department has, in the past, used domestic terrorism in consultation with acts of white supremacy or what were racially motivated acts. Like, in April 2020, a Florida man pled guilty to threatening an African American Charlottesville city council candidate, and at that time, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force was utilized. Same in the case of February 2020, where it was used in connection to four racially motivated violent extremists.
And I would also note the President's long history of condemning white supremacy and racism. There is no place in society for these egregious, egregious, despicable ideologies.
Q: Why hasn't he designated any white nationalist groups as terrorist organizations?
MS. MCENANY: It has been used — I explained how, in this case, that domestic terrorism will be used as a way that the crime is prosecuted. It's a prosecutorial method, and it was utilized in the same exact way with regard to white supremacy.
Q: Thanks, Kayleigh. On the Minnesota police officers, is he suggesting that they should be charged as well, as the officer who's already been charged — the other three?
And also, on Antifa, can you explain a little bit about how — how he know or how — is he talking about how you would identify members of Antifa? Since they're a very loose organization, it would be very difficult to tell who is part of it.
MS. MCENANY: So, first, I was just on the call with the President, where he expressed his dismay with those three officers who watched. I'll leave it to the state to pursue those charges if they decide to. It was the state that pursued the initial charge. But the President has expressed his complete dismay with those actions.
With Antifa, I do think it's important to note that they are a big element of this protest. AG Barr has noted that. Ambassador O'Brien has noted that. We have ample evidence that DOJ has received, indicating that Antifa is responsible for that unrest. But as to exactly how Antifa is identified, that would be more of a question for DOJ.
Q: When you talk about additional federal assets, does the President have authority to deploy forces across the country beyond the National Guard?
MS. MCENANY: He does. And, look, we're looking at every tool in the — in the federal toolkit available to us. You know, ideally, this would have been resolved at the state level. The states, after all, have the police power embedded in the 10th Amendment, and it is their responsibility to patrol their — their streets. But you're right to say that there are many federal authorities, including the one you cited, available to us.
Q: And did he bring this up with the governors in the phone call today?
MS. MCENANY: The focus of the call with the governors was really the National Guard, not that specific tool in the toolkit that you mentioned, but the National Guard and how it should be utilized much stronger than it's currently being utilized.
Yes. I will go to — let's see — Jeff.
Q: Okay. Thanks. Following up on the — what Jon was asking earlier: Governor Whitmer — she said she found the President's call today deeply disturbing. And she said the President told the governors they need to "put it down" or they would be overridden. So what — I mean, is there a specific authority he's using? Because, as you know, Posse Comitatus really prevents the use of the Army to put down domestic insurrection of any kind.
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, I don't know why Governor Whitner [sic] — Whitmer would be dismayed at the President telling governors to do their job. It is their responsibility to police their streets. They have the police power embedded in the Constitution. They have, quite clearly — many of them — failed to do their job. Look at the scenes we have seen.
And it's gotten to the point where, today, the President has said enough is enough. You know, "There are tools I can use, namely deploying National Guard." Many others that — Steve cited one: the Insurrection Act. It's one of the tools available. Whether the President decides to pursue that, that's his prerogative.
Right now, we're looking at a focus on the National Guard. That's where it currently stands. And, you know, there's a distinction between the National Guard and military forces in the street. I would note the National Guard are the friends and neighbors in these communities who are used and, as I noted the study from General Milley, used to great effect when they are deployed.
So the focus of the call was the National Guard — encouraging the deployment, far more than the 17,000 out there, and utilizing them this evening, certainly.
Q: And you said that number was 200,000. Would you like to see 100,000 National Guard on the street or 200,000 —
MS. MCENANY: I won't put a number on it. I think it's incumbent on governors to look at the situation. You know, a case in Texas might not merit the same thing as, you know, New York City. So he's encouraging the governors to up those levels, but there's not a specific number that he has in mind.
Q: Kayleigh, there is a perception that the President is hiding in the bunker on the racial protest issue. He was literally put in a bunker on Friday night by the Secret Service. I mean, would you agree that he is hiding out on this issue? And is that a good posture to be in?
MS. MCENANY: I would not. I would not agree with that at all. Look, I was on the phone with the President at least half a dozen times yesterday, and every time I talked to him, he was telling me about a different action he had taken, whether it was talking to a governor about this or a foreign leader about ventilators.
This President has been leading. He met with generals yesterday. He's, each and every moment, taking another action to try to solve and resolve what we've seen in our streets. Where the governors have failed, he's stepped in. He is acting. He's hard at work. You've heard from him on this issue any number of times, and he is working because that's the job of the President is to keep this country safe.
Q: But we haven't heard him on camera that much. Is he going to give some kind of speech or specific event about, you know, all these disturbances in hundreds of cities?
MS. MCENANY: I really think that that's a misnomer in the media. You know, it was really appalling some of the coverage I saw. Like, The New York Times yesterday made no myr- — no mention of the myriad times that the President has spoken on this issue. Instead, in paragraph 14, they made a cursory mention of his remarks at Space Force, most of which, at least half of which pertained to George Floyd.
There was a Washington Post article with an egregious headline about Trump staying silent. He hasn't been silent on this. I have a whole list of his remarks there. And instead, paragraph 23, they note, "Oh wait, we're contradicting our own headline. The President did, in fact, make remarks."
Contrary to the silent headline, you had Don Lemon on CNN saying, at 9:38 p.m. on Saturday night, the President has been silent. Ironically, that comment came four
afters [hours] after the President was quite audibly speaking at this issue. I was there for the remarks. And then you had CNN double down the next day, Sunday afternoon, saying the President was silent.
And, you know, I don't want to bore you with reading out all of his statements, but it sounds like I should read a few, like the President saying, it's "a grave tragedy" that "filled Americans all over the country with horror, anger, and grief…and I stand before you as a friend and ally to every American seeking justice." He said, "I understand the pain the people are feeling."
I can go on and on, but I would just be repeating what the President has already said, because make no mistake: This President has not been silent. And at this moment, he is acting to protect this country from the lawlessness we saw just out here in Lafayette Park last night.
Q: A particularly egregious act — St. John's Church, "Church of the Presidents," was targeted last night. Graffiti all over it. Set it on fire. What is the President's reaction to that, please?
MS. MCENANY: It's hurtful, honestly. I think it's hurtful on a number of levels. Look, the VA was defaced. Literally, the word "veteran" spray-painted out of the placard in front of the Department of Veteran Affairs. The Lincoln Memorial defaced. How does that make much sense? The place where the March on Washington began. That moment — that momentous occasion in the history of civil rights — that memorial was defaced last night. That doesn't honor the legacy of George Floyd. It doesn't. And certainly not the burning of St. John's Church.
Look, St. John's — I think it's important to go through a little bit of this, but Reverend John C. Harper was the St. John's rector many centuries ago — at least decades — centuries, and a few decades ago.
And here's what he was told: He was told he needed to close St. John's because he couldn't leave it open for the March on Washington because, quote, "it might be a bloodbath." But he stood boldly. He stood boldly, and he stood on the side of justice. And on the day the March on Washington happened, here's what was sung from that church:
One family on Earth are we
Throughout its widest span:
O help us everywhere to see the brotherhood of man.
And, of course, we know that the March on Washington ended with Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. giving that incredible speech, "I Have a Dream."
And that church, the same church that was burning last night, here is what they said. Taking that bold stance to support Martin Luther King, they said this: "This church building is open, as it has always been, [so] all who want to worship here. The ministry of this parish is extended to any who seek it. Our fellowship with one another has no limitations whatsoever." That church supported the bold civil rights moments of the March on Washington, which began at the Lincoln Memorial.
That doesn't honor the legacy of George Floyd. It doesn't further the cause. And those are violent anarchists, Antifa, who are taking advantage of the pain of people, the pain of the peaceful protesters. It's inexcusable, and we have to stand as one America against the burning of the church and the defacement of the Lincoln Memorial.
Q: Thank you, Kayleigh. Is it possible that D.C. will be placed under martial law in order to protect these national monuments from further destruction?
And second, under the Civil Rights Act of '68, will this administration investigate either members of Congress or political organizations who are funding or tied to Antifa, moving forward?
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, you know, on Antifa, I think at this point we're pursuing the domestic terrorism angle. That's what the DOJ has decided.
And what was — your first question was about martial law?
Q: Martial law to protect national monuments in D.C.
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, so I have not heard that discussed.
Q: Can you rule it out?
MS. MCENANY: Any other questions? Yes.
Q: Thank you. Can you confirm a phone call earlier today between Presidents Trump and Putin? And if so, considering what the President said to governors later in the day, did he ask President Putin for advice on how to quell unrest in his own country?
MS. MCENANY: I don't have any details on that call. I wasn't a part of it. But — and I am not entirely certain what was discussed, but the call did take place.
Q: Does the President regret using phrases like, "When the shooting starts, the looting starts" — "the looting starts, the shooting starts" and phrases like "vicious dogs"? Is he considering apologizing?
MS. MCENANY: So, the President, on the looting point, he was taken wildly out of context. Twitter — it's interesting to watch. I've seen multiple instances of real incitement of violence on Twitter, but they've never penalized those users, like, for instance, Iran. We've seen horrific tweets from the Iranian regime about the elimination of the "Zionist regime," to quote them, and they — that was never flagged. Interesting that their gut instinct was to flag the President, and they did so in an inaccurate way.
The President very clearly laid out what he meant by that tweet — that looting leads to shooting. And we have seen the unfortunate killing of one person in Minneapolis. There were seven people shot in a St. Louis riot a few nights ago.
And the President clearly laid out what he meant. But it is interesting to watch the gut instinct of Twitter to go ahead and label what the President said as somehow inciting violence, which it absolutely was not.
But, look, I want to say this: We cannot let violence and we cannot let looting and a few bad actors divide us as an American people. The American spirit is defined by love and mutual acceptance and kindness. And despite the horrific scenes we've seen played throughout the media, there are some things that we haven't seen. And I think it's important for the American people to see them.
And, Judd, I'm going to call for that sound bite now of some video that I think it's very important for us all to watch.
(A video is played.)
MS. MCENANY: Across the country, we've seen examples of police protecting protesters, and protesters embracing police, and it's been beautiful to watch. Those images have not been played all that often.
And I just want to leave you with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that, "We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools."
END 2:39 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/342062