Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany holds White House briefing 5/26/2020
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May 26, 2020

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On 5/26/2020, during the White House Press Briefing, Yamiche asked a question, “I’m going to read something really quickly. Timothy Klausutis wrote, quote, “Conspiracy theorists, including most recently the President of the United States, continue to spread their vile and misinformation on the platform, disparaging the memory of my wife.” Why won’t the President give this widower peace, and stop tweeting about this conspiracy theory involving his wife? Why won’t — why can’t this widower get peace from the President?”

MS. MCENANY: I’ve already asked and answered this question, and our hearts are —

Q You did not. You did not ask and answer this question.

MS. MCENANY: — our hearts are with — our hearts are with Lori. And I think I’ll — the onus is on Joe Scarborough to explain —

Q The onus is on the President. The widower is talking specifically about the President.

MS. MCENANY: — his interaction with Don Imus and his laughing on this very matter on Don Imus’s show.

Chanel.

Q But the widower — the widower —

Q Hey, Kayleigh. So, going back to the FISA Courts and the FISA warrants —

Q Excuse me, the widower is talking specifically about the President. Are you not going to answer that?

Q Kayleigh, the President tweeted — or retweeted something which seemed to be criticizing Joe Biden for wearing a mask over the weekend. Was that his intention? And if it was, why would he criticize that?

MS. MCENANY: I think — look, you know, the President is excited to see that Joe emerged from the basement. It is a bit peculiar though that, in his basement, right next to his wife, he’s not wearing a mask, but he’s wearing one outdoors when he’s socially distanced. So I think that there was a discrepancy there. He’s not shaming anyone. As the President noted himself, he wore this mask in private at the Ford facility, and he said he’s open to it if the circumstance mandates it.

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Full Transcript

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 5/26/2020 2:11 P.M. EDT

MS. MCENANY: Hello, everyone. I hope you all had an enjoyable weekend. I have some brief announcements for you today — just that now we have 760 sites and retail locations in 45 states, plus the District of Columbia. CVS is planning to open an additional 650 sites. These are encouraging numbers. It’s, again, a testament to our private sector for all that they’ve done in partnering with the administration and helping to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Also skilled nursing facilities — there was an announcement that I just want to underscore that $4.9 billion in additional relief funds were distributed to nursing homes and other skilled nursing facilities, and these funds are provided under the CARES Act.

So just those two items for you this morning, and we’ll go ahead and we’ll start with questions.

John.

Q China is making more — sending more overtures that it will crack down on Hong Kong. What’s the message from the administration to the Chinese government about changing the special status of Hong Kong?

MS. MCENANY: Yeah. And I know, Jen, you also emailed a question about this this morning, so I went directly to the President to get an answer on this. And he said to me that he’s displeased with China’s efforts and that it’s hard to see how Hong Kong can remain a financial hub if China takes over. So, that’s —

Q Which means what? Would the United States change its relationship with Hong Kong?

MS. MCENANY: So I have no further announcements as to the precise action that the President will be taking, but he did want me to share that with you this morning — this afternoon, I should say.

Yes.

Q Thanks, Kayleigh.

MS. MCENANY: Yep, no problem.

Q There’s nobody over my shoulder, I realize now. We saw a lot of images over the Memorial Day weekend of people gathering and large crowds not maintaining social distancing. Those images from the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri was one example we saw all over television news.

Does the President have any concerns about those kinds of gatherings? We haven’t heard any message from him addressing that specifically.

MS. MCENANY: Well, the President, as he’s noted, he wants to see society reopen, wants to see the economy reopen, but we do want to do so safely. And there are institutions that have put into place these social distancing measures, and people are making it cognizant and a part of their everyday lives.

For me, for example, I went to mass this weekend, and people were socially distanced. They were washing their hands. There are ways to do this. And the President would underscore to everyone that we should be taking into account these measures.

So, yes — everyone, while you go out, let’s keep cognizant the recommendations of the CDC because those, in the end, are very important to making sure that there is no spread of the virus.

And I would just also note one point — I did have some updated numbers for you on reopening and what we’re seeing across the country that I think are important: that 42 states are now under 10 percent in their positivity rate for the virus. Mortality is now equivalent to what we saw at the end of March. That’s the lowest level in two months. So we are seeing these encouraging signs as we start to reopen.

Anyone else? Jeff.

Q Kayleigh, the President tweeted — or retweeted something which seemed to be criticizing Joe Biden for wearing a mask over the weekend. Was that his intention? And if it was, why would he criticize that?

MS. MCENANY: I think — look, you know, the President is excited to see that Joe emerged from the basement. It is a bit peculiar though that, in his basement, right next to his wife, he’s not wearing a mask, but he’s wearing one outdoors when he’s socially distanced. So I think that there was a discrepancy there.

He’s not shaming anyone. As the President noted himself, he wore this mask in private at the Ford facility, and he said he’s open to it if the circumstance mandates it.

Q Isn’t the guidance to wear a mask when you’re outside though, not when you’re necessarily in your home?

MS. MCENANY: The guidance says it’s recommended but not required. So it’s the personal choice of the individual, but it didn’t strike him as a very data-driven decision in that particular incidence.

Yes, Peter.

Q Hi, Kayleigh. Thanks. If we could just do a little housekeeping. First, we know Katie Miller tweeted that she’s back at work today. Is the White House valet back at work? And has anybody else within the White House complex tested positive for the virus besides those two individuals that we learned about a couple weeks ago?

MS. MCENANY: So I don’t know about the valet. I haven’t inquired about that. No updates as to who’s tested positive or not; that’s not something I regularly keep tabs on. But Katie Miller is back at work. We’re very happy to see her recovered. I spoke to her yesterday. I haven’t seen her today. But she did have several negative test results before she reentered the building.

Q Would you get back to us and let us know if anybody else? People are worried about the President’s safety, the Vice President’s. Can you let us know that nobody else has tested positive in the two-plus weeks that have now passed since those cases?

MS. MCENANY: I can inquire about it, but it’s people’s personal medical decisions, so I’m not entirely sure that that would be given to me.

Q Okay. Let me follow up then, if I can. The President, in a tweet earlier today, said that he’s made governors look very good by getting them what he said was “unlimited testing.” That’s not true. You’ve said that it’s not even necessary. So why is the President saying that?

MS. MCENANY: He’s saying — what he means by that is that the governors requested a specific amount of testing to reopen, and he indeed has provided that. That’s —

Q So it’s not “unlimited testing,” you would agree.

MS. MCENANY: It’s what they asked for in phase one; it’s the full panoply of what every governor asked for that was given to him — given to them. And it’s 300- to 400,000 tests per day that we’re doing. That’s a really good number.

I did talk to Admiral Giroir before coming out here, and the metric that — if you’re to believe the WHO; I don’t particularly these days — but they say it’s — a good barometer of testing is 10 percent positivity or under. And Admiral Giroir shared with me that we’re nationally at 7.5 percent. So we’re in a pretty good spot.

Q Kayleigh, is Stephen Miller back? Is Stephen —

MS. MCENANY: Is Stephen Miller back? Yes. I just saw him in Outer Oval, so he is back and at work.

Q And he took — did he take some time away from the White House, though, for a while?

MS. MCENANY: He did. He did. He’s self-quarantined with his wife, but they’re both back at work and healthy and happy, and we’re very happy to see them around.

Q Glenn Fine, at the Pentagon — the top watchdog over at the Pentagon — he submitted his resignation today. Can you say if that was encouraged? Did anyone ask him? And can you talk about the importance about those internal watchdogs that are in our government agencies?

MS. MCENANY: So — you said it was Glenn Fine that was — that’s the first that I’m hearing about this.

But with regard to the other IGs, I would note that the President — it’s within his authority — his legal and executive authority — to appoint new IGs. And he said, I think last week at some point, that it’s within the decision-making process of each entity, at the State Department and each department, whether to keep their IG or not.

And I would note that President Obama has a precedent of firing IGs as well. And there were, in fact, 47 IGs that signed a letter claiming the Obama administration hindered their efforts. So this is not without precedent when it comes to IGs.

Yes.

Q Kayleigh, is it the President’s position that the Republican National Convention should go forward no matter what — no matter what the COVID infection rate is by late August?

MS. MCENANY: The President wants to see the convention take place — he’s noted that — and he wants to have a cooperative governor in making that pursuit happen.

That being said, of course we always assess the facts on the ground at any time, but at this moment, the President wants to see this convention take place and sees no reason not to, as the nation begins to reopen.

Q So if there was a significant spike in the cases, he would be open to the idea of a virtual convention and understanding that there couldn’t be a traditional convention?

MS. MCENANY: So I won’t engage on a hypothetical as to where the cases will be, but I would just note that we assess the facts on a day-by-day basis. And currently, we’re coming down on, and that’s really encouraging to see, and we’re ready for the convention to take place.

Yes.

Q Yes, has the President seen the letter that Lori Klausutis’s husband — widower — sent to Jack Dorsey, the Twitter CEO, saying that his tweets were “emotionally traumatic” for him and for his ex- — his wife’s family?

MS. MCENANY: I don’t know if he’s seen the letter, but I do know that our hearts are with Lori’s family at this time.

Q Why is the President making these unfounded allegations? I mean, this is — this is pretty nuts, isn’t it? The President is accusing somebody of possible murder? The family is pleading with the President to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?

MS. MCENANY: Well, you know, I would note that the President said this morning that this is not an original Trump thought, and it is not. In fact, in 2003, on Don Imus’s show, it was Don Imus and Joe Scarborough that joked about killing an intern — joked and laughed about it. So that was, I’m sure, pretty hurtful to Lori’s family. And Joe Scarborough himself brought this up with Don Imus, and Joe Scarborough, himself, can answer it.

Q Nor was she an intern, though.

Q But he’s the President. He’s the President of the United States and he’s accusing somebody of possibly murder. I mean, this is different. He’s — he’s not a private citizen; he’s the President.

MS. MCENANY: Yeah, and Joe Scarborough — if we want to start talking about false accusations, we have quite a few we can go through about Mika asserting —

Q No, no, I’m asking about — I’m asking about the President’s —

MS. MCENANY: — Mika Brzezinski —

Q I’m asking about the President’s allegation here, of —

MS. MCENANY: And I’m replying to you and saying, this morning, as recently — I believe it was this morning or yesterday — Mika accused the President of being responsible for 100,000 deaths in this country. That’s incredibly irresponsible. They’ve dragged his family through the mud. They’ve made false accusations that I won’t go through — that I would not say from this podium — against the President of the United States. And they should be held to account for their falsehoods.

Joe Scarborough should be held to account for saying people will die by taking hydroxychloroquine. Never mind the millions of Americans and people across the world who take it for rheumatory [sic] arthritis and other reasons.

There are a litany of false headlines, like Mika —

Q Does that justify the President spreading a false conspiracy theory that suggests that —

MS. MCENANY: I would point you back to —

Q — he’s responsible for murder?

MS. MCENANY: I would point you back to Joe Scarborough who laughed and joked about this item on Don Imus’s show. It’s Joe Scarborough that has to answer these questions.

Steven.

Q So will he apologize and will he stop, Kayleigh?

MS. MCENANY: Steven.

Q Thank you. If I could, two questions. John Ratcliffe was sworn in as intelligence director today. Has the President decided what’s next for Ric Grenell in terms of an appointment?

MS. MCENANY: He hasn’t, but Ric Grenell is a very valued member of this administration. He’s done extraordinary work at ODNI. He has a great history. We’ll see where he goes next. But just know that Ric Grenell has done an excellent job in that position; I expect that John Ratcliffe will, as he takes over.

Q And my second question, if I could: I asked the President last week, on Capitol Hill, about his involvement in FISA reform. And obviously, it’s — FISA is something he cares a lot about, but he told me that he had left it up to the senators to figure out. And, you know, it’s still ongoing, this process. The House has to pass the legislation that the Senate passed and send it. Senators tried and failed by just one vote to ban the warrantless collection of Internet records.

So I’m wondering now, how the President — if you could describe a little more about how the President sees himself as part of this debate and whether he might intervene at some point going forward.

MS. MCENANY: Yeah, it’s very personal to the President when it comes with FI- — comes to FISA. This is an important tool in the intelligence community; he knows that. But he also knows that it was used and abused and politicized.

The fact that you had 29 members of the Obama administration — 29 individuals of the intel community and Obama administration unmasking dozens of times, using these tools that are so much power to spy on an American citizen, to listen to their phone calls, to unmask their names. We have a Fourth Amendment in this country; it protects the rights of Americans, but the rights were not protected when it came to President Trump and his administration and Michael Flynn, whose name was leaked in a criminal fashion to the press.

FISA was not used appropriately when a Steele dossier full of lies that was, quote, “salacious and unverified,” in the words of Jim Comey, was used as the basis to get a FISA warrant and attested to as if it were truthful and a reason to spy on Carter Page. These tools were used and abused. The Fourth Amendment rights of several Americans were violated. A political campaign was spied upon.

So any FISA concerns the President has, they’re real, they’re personal, and they should be considered as we move forward to reauthorize this valuable tool.

Q Can I follow on that, Kayleigh —

MS. MCENANY: Sure.

Q — if I could? Ric Grenell, as one of his last official acts, at the request of Adam Schiff, declassified transcripts of the phone calls between General Michael Flynn and Sergey Kislyak. Would President Trump encourage John Ratcliffe to facilitate the release of those transcripts?

MS. MCENANY: I haven’t spoken to him on that, but this President has released — not the President, rather, but this President has overseen an ODNI that has given the American people a lot of information that I think they’re entitled to see. And one of the things the President has asked for is, where are the 302s — the summaries of that interview with Michael Flynn?

302s, so the American people understand, these are summaries when you interview an individual. And it’s routine that those 302s are given in short order right after the interview is done. It’s when your memory is at its best. But in the case of Michael Flynn, those 302s were lost and, in fact, edited afterwards by corrupt Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

So there’s a lot of questions. And this President has encouraged transparency on this issue, and I think it’s a great thing.

Q So in the absence of the 302s, would he encourage the release of the transcripts so that the American people can see exactly what transpired during those conversations?

MS. MCENANY: I haven’t asked him that. I’d have to ask them that particular question.

Q Can I ask a follow-up on John’s question?

MS. MCENANY: Yes. Yeah, let me — let me get a few people in the back because I want to make sure — equal opportunity question caller. So, yes.

Q Kayleigh, we’re about to cross the 100,000 dead American milestone. What would — what does the White House view as having — by Election Day, what does the White House view as the number of dead Americans, where you can say that we successfully defeated this pandemic? Is there a number?

MS. MCENANY: Yeah, you know, every loss of life counts. We say 100,000, but like the President says, you know, one death is something to be mourned. These 100,000 individuals have a face. The President takes this very seriously. It’s why he lowered the flag to half-staff for three days, to remember these men and women.

I think, you know, Dr. Birx said it best when she said that in their estimates they had anywhere between 1.5 and 2.2 million people in the U.S. succumbing to the virus if we didn’t shut down the economy. The President made the very hard choice of shutting down the economy, so we avoided that extraordinary number.

Every — one death is too many. We never want to see a single individual lose their life. But that being said, to be under, significantly, that high mark shows that the President did everything in his power and helped to make this number as low as humanly possible.

Q When Americans — when voters go to the polls in November, and they want to judge the President on his response to this pandemic, what is the number of dead Americans that they should tolerate as have — and where they can argue that, yes, he successfully defeated the pandemic?

MS. MCENANY: I think, you know, you’re asking the wrong question. The right question is where did —

Q Well, no, no —

MS. MCENANY: — where did the data —

Q — that’s the question I want to ask, Kayleigh. So please don’t tell me —

MS. MCENANY: Where did —

Q — whether I’m asking the right or wrong question.

MS. MCENANY: And I answered your question once, but if you ask it twice, it doesn’t make it any better of a question. So I’ll respond in kind. I’ve given you one answer, and I’ll continue to extrapolate upon that: that he always listened to the science. The President — when Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx said, “You need to shut down the economy,” that was hard for the President. You know, in a typical year 120,000 people die of suicide and drug overdose. That’s in a typical year.

And doctors have said, when you shut down an economy for an extended period of time, that number gets greater. People don’t show up for their cancer diagnoses. There are a litany of results when you close down an economy. But closing down the economy for this amount of time kept us far below the 2.2 million number.

As we start to reopen, we keep in mind the people who are missing their screening appointments, the people who are not — who are succumbing to suicide and drug overdose because of economic hardship. This President made the right choice. It was a delicate balance, and he did it exactly as he should, guided by data, and we are far below 2.2 million dead Americans because of the actions of President Trump.

Yamiche.

Q Hi. I have — I’m going to read something really quickly. Timothy Klausutis wrote, quote, “Conspiracy theorists, including most recently the President of the United States, continue to spread their vile and misinformation on the platform, disparaging the memory of my wife.” Why won’t the President give this widower peace, and stop tweeting about this conspiracy theory involving his wife? Why won’t — why can’t this widower get peace from the President?

MS. MCENANY: I’ve already asked and answered this question, and our hearts are —

Q You did not. You did not ask and answer this question.

MS. MCENANY: — our hearts are with — our hearts are with Lori. And I think I’ll — the onus is on Joe Scarborough to explain —

Q The onus is on the President. The widower is talking specifically about the President.

MS. MCENANY: — his interaction with Don Imus and his laughing on this very matter on Don Imus’s show.

Chanel.

Q But the widower — the widower —

Q Hey, Kayleigh. So, going back to the FISA Courts and the FISA warrants —

Q Excuse me, the widower is talking specifically about the President. Are you not going to answer that?

Q — with regards to ex-CIA chief, John Brennan: How far or how willing are you able to go forward and say that he lied to the FBI or obstructed justice in the process of discussing Russian collusion and the Trump family?

And on that note, we now have new information showing that Obama himself used foreign intelligence to actually request surveillance on the 5th and 26th floor of Trump Towers. So to what extent was John Brennan behind that? To what extent can you share with us what you know?

MS. MCENANY: Yeah, John Brennan, of all of the — I’ll call them bad actors, because indeed they were — of the Obama administration, John Brennan probably has the most to answer, because it was John Brennan who sat before Congress and said the Steele dossier — paid for by Hillary Clinton, paid for by the DNC — that that document played no part of the role in opening the Russia probe, when, in fact, we know it did; when, in fact, we know it was the impetus. And testified before a FISA Court for its truthfulness to spy on the Trump campaign.

So John Brennan, of all people, probably has more to answer. So too do Samantha Power and Susan Rice and these individuals who had admitted under oath that they, in fact, spoke to foreign leaders and representatives of foreign leaders during their transition, but yet somehow, during the Trump transition, that was uncalled for; what has been done all throughout history was uncalled for and meriting unmasking and meriting cornering General — Lieutenant General Michael Flynn.

All of these people have really legitimate questions to answer. I think we’re slowly getting to the bottom of this, but it’s a real travesty and really one of the biggest political scandals in modern history.

Yes.

Q Thank you, Kayleigh. It’s about the G7 Summit. So the area still has a very high number of cases. Prime Minister Trudeau spoke yesterday with Chancellor Merkel and President Macron. Is the President still confident of being able to organize the event in, like, three weeks? It’d be three weeks from now, if we stick to the date.

MS. MCENANY: Yeah, it’s a really great question and an important one because the G7 — the President wants to see this take place. As America reopens, as we try to approach a place of normalcy where people go back to work, where people do recreational activities but socially distance while they do it, the President thinks no greater example of reopening in this transition to greatness would be the G7, and G7 happening here and happening probably more towards the end of June.

Robert O’Brien, I believe it was, was asked about this, this weekend. And Robert O’Brien said that he’s getting a great reception from world leaders who are asked about coming. We will protect world leaders who come here, just like we protect people in the White House.

So we want to see it happen. We think it will happen. And, so far, foreign leaders are very much on board with the idea.

Q So it will be last week of June and here in D.C. or at Camp David?

MS. MCENANY: I don’t know if it will be the last week of June, but towards the end of June. And the goal for it is for it to be here at the White House.

Yes.

Q Right. So after the lowering of the flags this past weekend, does the President have any other plans in the works to honor the victims of the virus? And —

MS. MCENANY: Yeah, I think he’s — oh, go ahead.

Q Sorry. And a larger question is: Does he see his role as mourner-in-chief, in some way, which would be the traditional role of President?

MS. MCENANY: Yeah, I think he takes that, that responsibility, very seriously. He said that this is the hardest part of his presidency — going through this pandemic. He says so many times that he thinks about many of his friends — some of his friends, I should say — who have perished because of this disease. It’s real to him. It’s personal to him. It’s why he says, you know, one death is too many. And he thinks about it all of the time.

So he does see his role as that — comforting the nation, but reopening the country, giving the country hope at this time as we look forward to going back to work and resuming our lives, although in a new reality with new CDC guidelines.

Q Any concrete actions in the works?

MS. MCENANY: I think lowering the flags is a great example. And when we have further announcements on that front, I will be sure to share those with you.

Yeah.

Q Thanks. So going back to the Klausutis — Klausutis family, I think is how you pronounce it — the Florida family: They have asked the President that — the widower has asked the President in that letter to stop talking about this and for Twitter to take down those tweets.

I just wanted to ask you: Is the President asking for someone, for law enforcement to reopen this cold case? Is that what he’s intending? Is he going to ask the DOJ to reopen something? What is he asking for when he talks about the cold case?

MS. MCENANY: Yeah, I don’t have any future announcements on the President’s action, but I would just refer everyone, for those of you who haven’t heard it, go back and listen to the Don Imus soundbite. It was very callous; it was very cruel. And I think laughing and joking about the death of an intern is really uncalled for, and that’s something we can all agree to.

Thank you all very much.

END 2:32 P.M. EDT
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