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New White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany Holds Her First Briefing

Kayleigh McEnany

Trump held his own briefings, night after night, with the coronavirus task force through much of March and April. But those were scaled back this week, in the aftermath of the president’s suggestion that injecting disinfectants could be tested as a coronavirus treatment. He later said that he had been sarcastic.

One of the first questions that Kayleigh McEnany was asked was about Trump’s comments about the coronavirus originating in a lab in Wuhan, and whether it is in conflict with a National Intelligence assessment that was less conclusive.

“Let me remind everyone, intelligence is just an estimate, and it’s up to policymakers to decide what to do with that intelligence,” she said.

For about 40 minutes, Kayleigh McEnany swiftly answered questions, and her experience as a cable news commentator, as one of the president’s staunchest defenders, was clear. At times she addressed not the press but the viewing audience.

Kayleigh McEnany opened the briefing by playing the video of Michael Heup, speaking earlier this week at the White House. He is among the employees of a small business that hires people with developmental disabilities and was able to reopen because of a Paycheck Protection Act loan.

“Michael, thank you.  You’re an American hero,” she said from the lectern.  “Thank you for sharing that message of hope.”

But some of the same concerns among the members of the media remained: Her criticism of the way that China handled the early outbreak of coronavirus, for example, ignored the president’s own praise of Beijing during January and February.

Later, she was asked about Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer who is serving a prison sentence, and whether the White House intervened to prevent his release.

“No. Absolutely not,” she said, before quickly pivoting to the case of Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser. Even though he entered a guilty plea in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, recently released FBI documents have triggered claims by Flynn’s legal team that he was entrapped by federal agents. But there is some nuance to the documents, as agents deliberated how to pursue the case against him.

“There was an unfair target on the back of General Michael Flynn.  It should concern every American anytime there’s a partisan pursuit of an individual,” Kayleigh McEnany said.

But that only led to questions of whether Trump still thinks that Flynn lied. That was the reason that he was fired just weeks in the job, in February, 2017, after it was revealed that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his contacts with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

Not too surprisingly, Kayleigh McEnany was asked about allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault that have been made against Trump. Earlier in the day, Trump told podcast host Dan Bongino that Tara Reade, who is accusing Joe Biden of sexual assault, is “far more convincing” than Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Biden appeared on Morning Joe on Friday and denied Reade’s claims.

“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,” Kayleigh McEnany said. But there are other accusers since then, including E. Jean Carroll, who claimed last year that Trump assaulted her in a Bergdorf Goodman store in the mid-1990s. He has denied the claim.

What were the reviews? As many commentators noted, less important for Kayleigh McEnany was the media reaction, more important was how Trump viewed it. Right before she left the briefing room she got in a plug for the president’s Fox News town hall on Sunday evening — and the big ratings he got, night after night when it was him behind the lectern.

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