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White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany Holds Press Briefing. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired May 1, 2020 - 14:30   ET



KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Let me back up and talk a bit about how we approached disseminating information. And I talk with my colleague, Alyssa, and we plan out the communication strategy for this White House along with the president.

What we do is say, what is the best mode for the public to receive this information at this time. And we allow the news cycle and the needs of the American people to guide us.

And, you know, at the moment, what we see happening -- and I hinted at this in my gaggle last week -- is you have 35 states, and probably more at this point, with plans to re-open the country. Americans are looking to re-opening the country.

We've had Dr. Birx in several events this week. They've been -- Dr. Birx and Fauci -- out on the airwaves. They're really incredible people and have done a great service for this country.

But we allow the news of the day to guide us, what the American people need to hear. And right now, we're in a re-opening phase, which is why you've seen the president this week with CEOs, you've seen him with small-business owners, with small-business employees, today with some great heroes that have emerged from this pandemic and have done a lot of the hard work.

So every day we approach this as how can we disseminate this information? There's a need for information, which is why I am here supplementing the -- the efforts of this president to get the message out.

I would also note he's the most accessible president in history: took questions twice yesterday, twice the day before. You hear from him quite often, as well -- of -- as well as our medical experts.

QUESTION: So is the task force still meeting -- I guess what's the role of the coronavirus task force? We still have, you know, hundreds of people a day are dying, so does -- what -- what role does the task force have versus the economic advisory groups?

MCENANY: Yeah, the -- the task force meets regularly. I go to those meetings, I hear them. We are -- Dr. Birx, I should say, is meticulously reviewing the data in granular detail. I watch them spend sometimes the upwards of two hours in these task force briefings. So those are -- those are still ongoing. Rest assured, we want a safe reopening, so we are prioritizing the health of the American people, as well as looking forward to reopening this country.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Kayleigh. Back to the DNI statement from yesterday, there is a quote that I'd like to -- you to give -- to give me your response to. It said, "The intelligence community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified." This was from the DNI statement. How do you see this state -- how do you understand this?

And also, there was a piece in the New York Times that said senior Trump administration officials have pushed intelligence agencies to hunt for evidence to support the theory that COVID-19 was made in a Wuhan laboratory.

MCENANY: I can assure you that no one is pressing the intelligence community to come to a determination. The intelligence community's statement stands. It's in perfect concert with what the president said, so you know, I encourage the media to convey the facts to the American people, which is that we are in line as an administration, and we stand by the intelligence community, and that is in complete concert with the -- with what the president said yesterday.

Let's see, who haven't I gone to? Oh, I've gone to almost everyone.


MCENANY: OK, so we're in round two. That's great. Yes?

QUESTION: Thank you. Today, former Vice President Joe Biden denied allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Does President Trump take him at his word, given that as the president has said, he has denied allegations against himself?

MCENANY: Well, what I would say is that we are pleased that the former vice president has decided to go on the record. It took him less than, what, 16 hours to follow the advice of the president of the United States and come out and publicly address those claims. So you know, we're glad to see that he's on the record on this.

QUESTION: Let me just ask you about something the president said moments ago in an interview. He said that Tara Reade is, quote, "far more compelling than anything they had with respect to Brett Kavanaugh." What did he mean by that? What is more compelling?

MCENANY: You know, that's the president's assessment, so I would point you back to his words. I think it was a grave miscarriage of justice, what happened with Justice Brett Kavanaugh. I - there's no need for me to bring up some of the salacious, awful and verifiably false allegations that were made against Justice Kavanaugh. That was an embarrassment for the Democrat Party to have dragged the name of a very respectable man through the mud like that. So I -- I'll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Kayleigh, as the radio pool, I'm asking this on behalf of a colleague. There is word the decision to release Michael Cohen from prison to home confinement due to COVID-19 has been reversed. Did the White House directly or indirectly intervene here?

MCENANY: No. So absolutely not, I would say there, but I am glad that you brought up justice, and because -- look, there is, again, a -- a case of injustice that is yet to be brought up today, but I certainly would like to bring it up, and that's the case of General Michael Flynn. What we've all learned from that should scare every American citizen. The fact that you had Jim Comey admitting in December of last year that he violated a protocol by directing agents to confront Flynn -- something that he would not, quote, "have gotten away with under previous administrations." The FBI told Flynn he didn't need a lawyer when they came to meet with him. McCabe told FBI agents that he didn't think Flynn was lying.

And then all of that information we've learned over the last few months and years culminates in the fact that we have a hand-written FBI note that says, quote, "We need to get Flynn to lie," quote, "and get him fired." That was a -- there was an unfair target on the back of General Michael Flynn. It should concern every American. Any time there's a partisan pursuit of an individual, that's certainly -- at least, those questions are raised with regard to General Michael Flynn, an honorable man who served his country.


MCENANY: John (ph)?

QUESTION: Yeah, Kayleigh, on that one, the president fired Michael Flynn. He said he was doing so because he had lied to the vice president and he had lied to the FBI. So given all that you've just said, isn't it -- isn't it still true, doesn't the president still believe that Michael Flynn lied to Vice President Pence and lied to the FBI?

MCENANY: Well, first, let me address that. Vice President Pence is on the record about this. He said he's inclined to believe that Flynn did not intentionally mislead him, and I guess I would turn the question on you and just ask, does it trouble you that the FBI said we've got to get Flynn to lie? Doesn't that trouble you as a journalist...


MCENANY: ... and not only that, as an American citizen?

QUESTION: Well, it's certainly something worth reporting. It's not my job...

MCENANY: Absolutely.

QUESTION: ... to say whether or not it's trouble. But the bottom line is, the president said, point blank, that Flynn lied to the FBI and to the vice president. And I'm just asking a very direct question, does he still believe that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI and lied to the vice president?

MCENANY: And again, I'd point you to the vice president's statement that he's... QUESTION: I'm asking about the president.

MCENANY: ... inclined to believe that Flynn did not intentionally mislead him. And I'm asking back that all of you, in your coverage, endeavor to report what is a very scary story, when the FBI is saying, let us get someone to lie. I've seen very scant coverage of that, it's a story worth reporting and a story that I hope the American people, if you haven't heard it yet, are getting to hear for the very first time.

Janelle (ph)?


QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary McEnany. Going back to the South China Sea, we had an issue come up this morning, where you had the USS Barry crossing international maritime waters, and then China -- this is in the South China Sea. And Chinese officials are saying that this will be a dead-end endeavor.

Does -- has the president spoken with any of the -- any side on the Chinese as far as what the United States is going to continue doing? Is the U.S. Navy going to just ignore these threats and keep -- keep going through these international waters? What are your responses to China's increasing aggression in the South China Sea again?

MCENANY: Yeah, I have no news to report as to the president's conversations. And for the specifics of that, I would redirect you to the NSC.


QUESTION: Thanks. In the same podcast (ph) interview, the president said that Democrats would, quote, "Have to give us a lot for aid to -- to states." I'm wondering if you have any idea of what specifically the White House, the president is asking for?

And secondly, what you'd say to somebody like Governor Cuomo, that says, you know, the president's already told me, a few weeks ago, that he would support this type of assistance and why are we bailing out, you know, airlines or defense contractors but not the states that pay teachers or first responders?

MCENANY: Well, first, you brought up Governor Cuomo, so I just thought it's a good time to remind everyone that Governor Cuomo has praised the president's response in this COVID-19 crisis, saying that what the president has achieved is a phenomenal accomplishment, and we thank Governor Cuomo for those very kind words.

But on that note, with regard to funding to states, phase four is something that we want to start negotiating -- good negotiating on immediately and get to work on. The president has said, look, I will certainly look to consider helping states who have coronavirus reasons for the financial situation they find themselves in, but he doesn't want this to be an excuse for decades and decades of bad Democrat governance that have run some of these states into a financial predicament. So he has mentioned that.

In terms of the types of things he wants to see in this phase four, I don't want to get ahead of the negotiations, but I do want to emphasize that he has mentioned sanctuary cities. This is a really important issue that has cost American lives.

Last year, our brave ICE officers arrested more than 120,000 criminal aliens, charged with nearly 10,000 burglaries, 5,000 sexual assaults, 45,000 violent assaults, 2,000 murders and, in the last year, egregiously, 5,000 human trafficking episodes. So American lives matter, our brave ICE men and women matter and it's something that he's mentioned he'd like to see in a phase four.

QUESTION: I mean, you raised that and the president's been kind of vague about this. Are you explicitly conditioning state aid on states or cities not saying that they would have sanctuary city policies?

MCENANY: No, I'm not -- no. Not conditioning anything. But saying that is a negotiation item that the president will certainly bring up.

QUESTION: Thanks very much. So the president has, in the past, denied any of the allegations from the many women who have accused him of sexual misconduct. But for that podcast today, (inaudible) suggesting allegations that Tara Reade has raised are more -- or what did he say, credible than the ones against Brett Kavanaugh.

What about the allegations that were raised against him, however? Why should the public -- or what makes them any less credible than the allegations from Tara Reade?

MCENANY: The president has swiftly denied all of these allegations that were raised four years ago. He has always told the truth on these issues, he's denied them immediately and you're bringing up issues, like I said, 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.

But, you know, the media, leave it to the media to really take an issue about the former vice president 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.

QUESTION: Can we just come back, Kayleigh, to John's (ph) question? Because Kellyanne Conway spoke to this the other day and suggested that two things could be true at the same time.

We now have the vice president saying it's his belief that General Flynn may have unintentionally misled him, that's now three years after the fact. But the two things that could have been true at the same time were that Flynn lied to the vice president, and also lied to the FBI. If you remove the FBI piece of that, would the president still have fired Michael Flynn for his belief that he had lied at that point to the vice president?

MCENANY: I mean, I'm not engage in a hypothetical, and that's essentially what that would be. But what I would say is echo, yet again, that this was a grave miscarriage of justice.

I am very glad that the FBI thought to keep a paper trail because what many have said for a very long time, pointing to the first few facts I shared with you, culminating in that handwritten note, I'm glad they kept such good documentation of their intent to slow-walk General Flynn into a trap, and to essentially create, as I mentioned, a grave miscarriage of justice.

So FBI, at least, we can thank you for the great note-taking.

QUESTION: Let me follow up on that, though. John (ph) does bring up the point that General Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

MCENANY: I'm not going to get involved in what was a matter of...


QUESTION: ... miscarriage (ph) of (ph) justice, though, in a sense?

MCENANY: It's -- do you not consider it a miscarriage of justice when you have the FBI writing, we want to get someone to lie? Is that a miscarriage of justice?

QUESTION: But in the end he pleaded guilty, and that's...

MCENANY: You hesitated. Because you know what the answer is, the answer is yes...

QUESTION: But that's up to a lot of other people to decide.

MCENANY: ... and I would 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 scant information about Michael Flynn, when there was a whole lot of speculation about Russia, Russia, Russia, culminating in $40 million of taxpayer money being lost in the complete and total exoneration of President Trump.

Thank you guys so much, I'm going to cut this short now and go see my little 5-month-old here in a few hours.



Let me just say this. The president, at 5:00 p.m., leaves today for Camp David. It's going to be a working weekend. He'll be talking with heads of states, with elected officials. We have a great event coming up this afternoon.

And of course, everyone should watch the FOX News town hall with the president, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. It will be can't-miss television, much like the highly rated President Trump Coronavirus Task Force briefings have been.

Thank you.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right. There you have it. Kayleigh McEnany, her first at-bat as White House press secretary. Again, the last briefing, 417 days ago.

It was a lot there. We'll go through all of it, I promise you that.

A couple of headlines. First, just questions on China. She was expressing the president's displeasure of China as that is the assumption this is where this originated, despite lack of clarity perhaps from the Intelligence Community and nailing that down. And that, of course, flies in the face of how the president initially responded regarding China.

Asked about the vaccine, quoting Fauci, saying phase one. So Kaitlan -- rather, Kayleigh was saying that faster than ever before with regard to the vaccine.

On Michigan, on those protests with the individuals with long arms walking into the state capital, said the protesters must protest lawfully.

And then there's this whole issue with the original national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and as she referred to, the miscarriage of justice, or non-sequitur, and bringing Michael Flynn up.

So we'll go through all of it.

Let me begin with you, Kaitlan Collins, our White House correspondent.

One question to her was: Will you pledge never to lie to us? And she said never. And then constant, on the defense of how this administration has handled this entire coronavirus crisis, defending the success story claims.

What did you make of all of that?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, she said she would never lie to the press there. She gave her word.

She also said that she wants to make these press briefings regular occurrences again. Of course, they were originally in this administration and then totally faded out before this pandemic when we started seeing the president himself come into the briefing rooms.


So that's notable in and of itself that they are going to be changing that. Because the press secretary who proceeded her did not ever brief during her tenure. So we should note that, it seems like they'll return to the more traditional format where she makes remarks and then takes reporters' questions. I think she was in the room about 40 minutes total while she was in there, Brooke.

And she did hit several notes. I want to talk about two things. One, we had this reporting yesterday that there are aides crafting a list of possible retaliatory measures against China in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Some of those range from several different options, including demanding financial compensation. They're weighing things like sanctions, new trade deals. Some people even floated the idea of possibly cancelling U.S. debt to China. We should note the president's economic advisers denied that.

Kayleigh McEnany said she did not want to get ahead of any announcements so did not shed light on where the president is with that.

But also on the intelligence statement we got from the office of the director of National Intelligence, which the president seems to undermine just a few hours later, Brooke, that was just a rare statement.

We don't normally see them put out a statement like that where they say they don't believe the coronavirus was manmade or genetically modified. But they're still investigating whether or not it came from contact with infected animals or a lab accident in Wuhan.

Then the president said yesterday he had seen evidence it originated in a lab in China. He did not cite the evidence. There's still a lot of questions about that because we know members of the Intelligence Community have been looking into this.

BALDWIN: And on the point of China -- Kaitlin, hang with me.

Daniel Dale, let me bring you in, our fact checker extraordinaire.

Let's start on China for fact checking. Yes, questions about a financial penalty, about where this virus originated. But she also talked about the president's displeasure with China. But he had -- I'm just looking at the dates back in January and February. He had praised China initially, no?

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: He praised China over and over again. And yesterday, what he claims to Jim Acosta it was while he was negotiating a trade deal with China so he couldn't anger them, before the virus came.

And that's not true at all. He kept praising them after the first virus case was confirmed in the U.S. in January, after the deal took effect with China on February 14th. He kept praising them through late February.

So this was not just instrumental praise but praise beyond when he really needed to for trade purposes.

BALDWIN: Here's another fact check for you, I jotted down this line. The president has always sided on the side of data -- Daniel?

DALE: I think the full quote, she was claiming that Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci had told her that he always sides with data. I don't know what they told her in private. Having watched the president, he proudly prefers to go with his gut in

many cases. He said yesterday, sometimes what I feel is better than what I think. He's an instinctual person. The idea he always sides with data is clearly untrue. But I don't know what Birx and Fauci might have told her behind closed doors.

BALDWIN: Gloria Borger, what did you make of that 40-minute briefing and the fact that Kayleigh, when asked, said, setting the tone early on day one, saying she will never lie.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think journalists are going to hold her to that standard. We'll see how that lasts, given the person for whom she works.

I would have to say a couple of things strike me. First of all, she was playing to an audience of one and you know who that is. Watching from the oval or wherever he was, watching to see how she performed. And she really hit the notes, it seems to me, the president wanted her to hit, not only about the coronavirus but raising the question of General Flynn because --


BALDWIN: Out of a question about Michael Cohen.

BORGER: Michael Cohen. She turned it into a question about General Flynn. And she said, you know, I think the American public should be aware of this miscarriage of justice, and that he was slow walked into a trap.

And then she was asked, well, wait a minute, the president fired him because he lied to the vice president. And by the way, he did also plead guilty. And she said and raised what the vice president said yesterday, well, Pence is now inclined to believe General Flynn.

So it seems to me we could read into that, from what the president said the other day, he would rehire him, that there may be a pardon in the works at some point pretty soon. And I think that she was doing that for the president. There's no doubt in my mind that she would raise an issue at a press conference largely about coronavirus to talk about this.


Second thing to me, she was always -- because they know how popular Tony Fauci is in the country. And she was saying we're on his side. We're on the same side as Tony Fauci, who has been, as you know, very cautious about re-openings in the country. So she was very careful about that.

And third thing and then I'm done --

BALDWIN: Keep going.

BORGER: -- is talking about empathy. She kept talking about how we're praying for you, and every night I keep everybody who has been affected by the coronavirus in my prayers because that is what you have not heard from the president.

So I think she was trying, in her own way, to make up for that deficit that the president has when he does not talk about those affected in a very convincing way.

BALDWIN: I'm so glad you brought that up. All three of those points. But especially you are so spot on, on the empathy point. And you've written about the lack of empathy with this particular president.

Let me go back to Kaitlan.

Just on Gloria's points about Michael Flynn -- and Gloria hit on it. But the president fired him. And so now she's taking this right turn into bringing up and - Kayleigh, speaking of justice, let me go on a riff on Michael Flynn. What did you make of all of that?

COLLINS: And remember, the question was about Michael Cohen and how he was supposed to get out of prison early because of the coronavirus outbreak. He was going to spend the rest of his time at home. And I think that is still -- that is something in flux. And she was asked if the White House had intervened in that and she said, no, they have not.

And pivoted on her own to Michael Flynn, something the president has shown a high level of interest in, in recent days, saying, quote, "He was tormented by dirty cops."

And the question of what it comes down to is the vice president, his interactions with the vice president. Because if you remember, at the time, Sean Spicer was the press secretary and he said Flynn was leaving his job not because of anything he had done wrong but lost the confidence of the president and the vice president because he lied to the vice president about his interactions with the then-Russian ambassador.

But not just the vice president or the FBI. He also lied to the chief of staff at the time, the press secretary at the time. Because they were interacting with reporters about this and speaking to them about what Flynn's interactions as the questions were still being raised.

Because we know a lot of information now. At the time, we were still working with bits and pieces and we were figuring out the conversations that he had.

But you saw the vice president himself start to turn on this yesterday when he was asked about this and he said he didn't believe that Michael Flynn intentionally misled him.

Which is striking because that was something at the time White House officials were so surprised by because he lied to the vice president, when asked directly, a question about that.

But I should point out, the people that work in the White House now, a lot of them are different than the staff that was making up of the staff, the makeup of the team back in 2017 when the Flynn stuff was happening. There are a few people still there, Kellyanne Conway, Dan Scavino,

others who are close and around the president. But it was a big deal in the White House when they found out he had lied to the vice president.

So it is notable that the president is out there defending him, saying he was done wrong by the Department of Justice, and leaving open the possibility that he could bring Mike Flynn back to the administration.

BALDWIN: A pardon.

COLLINS: Yes, maybe a pardon as well. But he said it doesn't have to come as a pardon. This case gets overturned on its own.

BALDWIN: That is an extraordinary moment. Non sequitur for her to bring him up.

Kaitlan, thank you.

Elizabeth Cohen, let me bring your voice into the conversation.

You watched the briefing. Kayleigh, out of the gate, obviously, was touting these success stories, showed this video clip. And I have no doubt this -- this young man, Michael from the local D.C. business, is an extraordinary young man. But it was like -- she was touting these examples of success stories in the wake of this fatal virus.

And can you just -- I don't know -- react to that and juxtapose that with the chaos that was the federal government response in the beginning?

DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It is one thing to sort of bring out this one person who may have been a recipient of some federal aid and, look, wasn't that a good thing. It is different to the entire response.

It was chaotic. Just getting out a simple test to look for a virus, not complicated. Just getting that out was a mess. Now we've moved on to another mess and that is antibody testing.

So while Kayleigh can talk about all of the wonderful things the government has done, I think what is agreed among every researcher I've talked to is when they relax the rules for antibody test, they said, hey, you could sell an antibody test in this country without proving to us that it works. You didn't have to show any data.


And then when researchers put those tests to the test, they found they were getting terrible results -- was the word that one of them used. Really terrible results. They were terribly inaccurate. That is creating more of a mess.

Six weeks later since they did that, it is still a mess. Nobody knows which antibody tests work well and which don't. So chaos is an excellent word to describe that situation. BALDWIN: I appreciate that perspective and the facts on the test.

Elizabeth, thank you.

And just staying on the facts. Daniel Dale, come back in because here is my next question.

Kayleigh talked about how states should follow federal guidance but the president has, at times, cheered states to reopen without meeting his own guidelines.

DALE: That's right. And I think there was a significant misstatement -- I'll put it generally because it is her first briefing -- from Kayleigh about the president's tweet in which he expressed support for Michigan protesters. He didn't say whom, but some were militia members.

And she was asked: Who he was talking about, the people that stormed the state building? And she said the president was referencing, generally, you have a First Amendment right to protest. That is not what he said. This is not a general expression of the right to protest. This is support for the protesters.

And I think we should point out that Kayleigh significantly misquoted the FBI notes regarding Michael Flynn. She quoted the note saying, "We need to get him to lie." It said, "What is our goal, truth/admission? Get him to lie." It is the "get him to lie" part but didn't say, quote, "We need to get him to lie," and that is what she said it said.

BALDWIN: Thank you for the fact check, Daniel Dale.

Gloria, back over to you.

These comments by the president that he's done a spectacular, Jared Kushner's comments, of course, just don't match with reality.

BORGER: No. No, look, Kayleigh McEnany, this is her first outing, as I was saying. Donald Trump is watching. She's a team player. She didn't go, you know, off the page once.

And there's another interesting answer. There's a lot of -- obviously, Joe Biden gave an interview today about his own issues with Tara Reade. And Kayleigh was asked about that. And, again, again, not going off the playbook here, she said, when she was asked about Donald Trump's own issues with women, she said Donald Trump has always told the truth on these issues.

Now, we know that -- Daniel Dale tell me -- we know that verifiably not to be the truth.


BORGER: We know that Donald Trump signed a check. Ask Stormy Daniels, right?

BALDWIN: Right. BORGER: So I think that, again, on the playbook for Donald Trump in

every single way.

BALDWIN: I want to come back. This is, I think, the last question and then I'm out of time and hand it over to Kate.

But your point a second ago about praising Fauci, right? How Kayleigh was praising Fauci. What is still missing are briefings from Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx. You wrote a whole column about the doctors and their own approval numbers versus this president.

Should they not be out front on a more regular basis?

BORGER: Well, I think they should. I think it is what the public wants to hear. We're very lucky at CNN because we just had Dr. Fauci, for example, on our air last night.

But I think what we've seen is kind of an evolution here, which is, first it started with Mike Pence, and the doctors, then they were getting a lot of publicity, and Donald Trump couldn't stay off the stage. Then it came to the president, doing those briefings.

Then his aides, advisers, and Republicans saw his poll numbers going down, because the more the public saw him, the less they liked him. So he's kind of now been doing these smaller events with CEOs and the rest that Kayleigh McEnany spoke about. And Kayleigh will do the briefings.

And then the question is that we still have an answer, to your point, Brooke, is, what happens to the doctors. When will we hear from the scientists? She said they're taking to the states every day. Well that is great. But they need to talk to the American public every day.


And the problem may be that Tony Fauci is worried. He's worried that, in a lot of places, the states are not following the guidelines that they carefully laid out and the president is not criticizing them, except for perhaps Georgia, if you recall.