Recently appointed White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany gave her first briefing Friday, pledging to reporters that she would tell the truth.
“I will never lie to you. You have my word on that,” McEnany said, responding to a reporter’s question. She said she planned to continue the briefings and offered assurances that she has full access to the president.
“I'm around the president almost the entire day,” McEnany said. “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.”
In her briefing, McEnany covered a wide range of issues mostly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the president’s claims that he has seen evidence proving the new coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab, as he threatened tariffs on Beijing over its role in the global pandemic.
“I won't get ahead of any announcements from the president, but I will echo the president's displeasure with China,” McEnany said, pushing back questioning that Trump’s assertion was undermined by his own intelligence.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have said the U.S. does not know precisely where the virus began.
“Intelligence is just an estimate, essentially, and it's up to policymakers to decide what to do with that intelligence,” she added.
McEnany commented on former Vice President Joe Biden, who is facing allegations of a sexual assault in 1993 from a former Senate aide, Tara Reade.
“We are pleased that the former vice president has decided to go on the record,” McEnany said, adding that it took Biden less than 16 hours to “follow the advice of the president of the United States” to publicly address those claims.
On Friday, Biden denied the accusation, breaking a monthlong silence that had frustrated some Democrats. In a statement, Biden cited “the full and growing record of inconsistencies” in the accusations and said: “They aren’t true. This never happened.”
During a White House press event Thursday, Trump said that Biden “should respond” and suggested that Reade’s account could be a “false accusation.” In a Friday interview with conservative radio host Dan Bongino, Trump, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women, advised Biden to “just go out and fight it.”
Trump’s reelection campaign released an online attack ad Friday focusing on the sexual assault allegations against the presumptive Democratic nominee.
When asked whether the president still believed Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, lied to the FBI and Vice President Mike Pence, McEnany referred to Pence’s statement “that he's inclined to believe that Flynn did not intentionally mislead him” and said that the FBI’s “unfair” targeting of the general should concern every American.
FBI documents released by a federal judge earlier this week suggest FBI officials asked whether the bureau’s goal was to get Flynn to lie, “so we can prosecute him or get him fired.”
In December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty of lying to the FBI in the Mueller investigation of the Trump campaign’s role in Russian meddling in the U.S. 2016 presidential election. Flynn is seeking to withdraw his plea that he lied to the FBI about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. The newly revealed documents could strengthen Flynn’s case.
White House practice
Press secretary briefings in the James F. Brady room are a long-held White House practice and part of the communications strategy of several administrations, but they largely disappeared under the Trump administration as of March 2019.
With the exception of interviews on Fox News, a television network known to be friendly to the administration, McEnany’s predecessor, Stephanie Grisham, eschewed the camera. Grisham did not give a single briefing and maintained that Trump is his own best spokesman.
In the absence of scheduled press briefings, Trump answers reporters’ questions during press sprays in the Oval Office or on the South Lawn before departures aboard his Marine One helicopter.
Trump held almost daily briefings on the coronavirus pandemic until recently, after he was excoriated for appearing to suggest injections of disinfectant or sunlight as a COVID-19 cure. The president denied the suggestion, saying he was being sarcastic.
McEnany is Trump's fourth press secretary and previously was spokeswoman for Trump's re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee.
A graduate of Harvard Law School known for her unyielding defenses of Trump on television news shows, she took over the job from Grisham in early April during an overhaul of the White House communications department. Grisham returned to the first lady’s office in her new role as Melania Trump’s chief of staff.
Rumors of the return of White House press briefings began Thursday as McEnany was seen standing at the briefing room podium with technicians making adjustments to accommodate her height. Asked by reporters if she would be conducting briefings, McEnany quipped, “Never say never.”