The discrepancy is clear in the two photos displayed here, which show the Mall shortly before Obama and Trump were sworn-in around noon eight years apart. The 2009 and 2017 photos were taken one hour — and eight years — apart, with Obama’s crowds massing in the photo about one hour earlier than Trump’s audience.
A Park Service official said four of the images were forwarded to the White House after Trump made an unusual call to Acting Park Service Director Michael T. Reynolds the day after his inauguration. The newly minted president demanded that Reynolds produce the images taken by agency photographers, The Washington Post reported in late January. Trump believed the photos might prove the media lied in its reporting.
They are contained in “Batch 4“of the “NAMA 2017” photos of the crowd released Monday through a Freedom of Information Act request by The Washington Post and other media organizations. The Interior Department also sent an additional batch of photos to the White House.
Here are a few of the images released from Trump’s inauguration:
The images are the official record of the federal government — and they contradict Trump’s claim that more than 1.5 million supporters crowded onto the Mall to watch him take the oath of office. Photos taken by news outlets during the inauguration also showed a crowd size smaller than Obama’s during his first inauguration in 2009 — about two-thirds smaller, according to several estimates by experts.
The Washington Post and other news outlets sought the official images after Trump boasted of his inauguration crowd size and his press secretary, Sean Spicer, accused the media of doctoring photographs to show angles with small numbers of attendees. Spicer also called Trump’s inauguration “the most viewed in history.”
The official images — which show attendees up close, Park Service police monitoring crowds, protesters on the ground as well as aerial photographs shot from government helicopters — show the crowd in attendance is sparser than the president said, and certainly thinner than the crowd that Obama drew in 2009.
“I’m assuming they show exactly what the rest of the world knows,” said Keith Still, a mathematician and crowd expert at Manchester Metropolitan University in England who analyzed the news footage from the Trump inauguration. Still had not seen the Park Service images released Monday.
“It was a very large crowd,” Still said. “It was also a third of the Obama crowd in 2009.” That estimate is shared by other crowd experts.
Crowd numbers are never exact, but the Trump record could not easily be set straight because the Park Service stopped releasing official tallies after the Million Man March in 1995. The agency estimated that 400,000 people came to the gathering of black men, but organizers claimed the number was one million, and the controversy took park officials out of the crowd-estimating business.
“What this does is validate the other photos that were out there in January,” said Dan Gross, who was in charge of crowd logistics for Obama’s 2013 inauguration. “It’s obvious they didn’t have the crowd they were expecting. It’s not rocket science.”
Karly Domb Sadof contributed to this story.