Donald Trump and his chief spokesman launched an unprecedented assault on the media Saturday for a US president’s first full day in office, accusing reporters of downplaying the turnout at his inauguration.
Trump, visiting the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in nearby Langley, Virginia, insisted against all evidence that he drew 1.5 million people to his Friday swearing-in ceremony.
“I made a speech. I looked out, the field was, it looked like a million, million and a half people,” he told CIA staff.
“They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there. And they said, Donald Trump did not draw well,” he added.
Trump said one network estimated turnout at 250,000.
“Now, that’s not bad. But it’s a lie,” Trump said. He falsely claimed there were people stretching from the steps of the Capitol, where he spoke, along 20 blocks back to the Washington Monument.
“So we caught them and we caught them in a beauty and I think they’re going to pay a big price,” said Trump.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer doubled down on the accusation, using his first press conference in the White House briefing room to blast the journalists seated before him for “deliberately false reporting” on crowd size.
“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period!” Spicer said, his loud and abrasive tone catching nearly everyone in the room off guard.
“These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”
Spicer left the briefing without taking questions.
An estimated 1.8 million people flooded the National Mall area in 2009 when Barack Obama was first sworn in as president, according to federal and local agencies at the time.
Washington authorities reportedly predicted 800,000 to 900,000 would attend Trump’s inauguration Friday, about half of the 2009 crowd.
– ‘Packed’ –
Spicer appeared eager to lay down the new law with the press, whom his boss repeatedly criticized on the campaign trail and even branded mainstream media outlets “fake news.”
The intensity of Spicer’s delivery suggested he and Trump were furious at the coverage of the inauguration, which many outlets said fell well short of Obama’s 2009 inaugural in terms of crowd size.
A comparison of aerial photos taken on January 20, 2009 and Friday appear to bear that out.
Washington city authorities do not provide official crowd counts but TV footage clearly showed the gathering did not stretch all the way to the Washington Monument as Trump asserted.
Trump’s latest attack on news organizations came during a rambling aside as he visited CIA headquarters on a fence-mending mission after his public rejection of the assessment by US intelligence agencies that Russia meddled to try to help him win the November election.
Trump, standing in front of a spot sacred to the CIA — a wall with stars honoring employees killed while serving the country — proclaimed he is fully behind the spy agency.
He eventually returned to the issue of media coverage of his inauguration and said the National Mall, divided up into sections for Friday’s ceremony, was uniformly crammed with people.
“You saw that. Packed. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field. I’m like, wait a minute,” he said.
The outrage over crowd size came on a day that as many as two million people flooded into streets of cities across the United States in peaceful but passionate women-led protests against the new commander-in-chief.
At the main “Women’s March on Washington,” organizers put the projected turnout at half a million.