The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How Kellyanne Conway ushered in the era of ‘alternative facts’

For Donald Trump, size matters -- most recently, when it comes to discussion of his inaugural crowds. But not when it comes to feuds: the president and top aides demonstrated again this weekend that no fight is too small, no spat too insignificant; they spent the first full day of his term focused publicly not on policy pushes, but on re-litigating the number of people who'd come in person to watch him take the oath of office -- and using it as one of several avenues of attack on the press.

President Trump and White House press secretary Sean Spicer made public statements questioning the media on Saturday, Jan. 21. The following morning, Trump's White House team, his supporters and his opponents responded to the controversial day. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

On Sunday, Day 3 of the Trump-launched Inauguration Crowd Controversy, senior adviser Kellyanne Conway had a new spin on the situation -- and a notably rocky reception from anchors on several networks, including a very skeptical Chuck Todd on Meet the Press

We've posted the entire transcript below and highlighted the key portions. To see an annotation, click on the yellow, highlighted text. To make your own, sign up for or log in to your account with Genius.

CHUCK TODD: And joining me now is the counselor to President Trump, Kellyanne Conway. Miss Conway, welcome to the White House north lawn which will--


CHUCK TODD: --become a familiar place for you I think--


CHUCK TODD: --for the next few years. Let me begin with this question, the presidency is about choices. So I'm curious why President Trump chose yesterday to send out his press secretary to essentially litigate a provable falsehood when it comes to a small and petty thing like inaugural crowd size. I guess my question to you is, why do that?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Chuck, the president did many things yesterday and the day before that are very meaningful to America. He signed executive orders to stop Obamacare and all of its problems. Many people have lost their-- Millions of people have lost their insurance, their doctors, their plans. So that stops right now.

He's going to replace it with something much more free-market and patient-centric in nature. And on this matter of crowd size, I mean, for me I think the most quantifiable points of interest for Americans should be what just happened a few months ago that brought him here, the 31 of 50 states he won, the 2,600 counties, the 200 counties that went for President Obama that now went to President Trump. And the fact that 29, 30 million women voted for Donald Trump for president. They should be respected. Somebody should cover their voices as well.

I'm about things that are quantifiable and important. I don’t think that-- I don't think ultimately presidents are judged by crowd sizes at their inauguration. I think they're judged by their accomplishments. And we know that President Obama and his accomplishments, that there's a lot of unfinished business there.

And on this matter of crowd size I think it is a symbol for the unfair and incomplete treatment that this president often receives. I'm very heartened to see Nielsen just came out with the ratings, 31 million people watching the inauguration. President Obama had 20.5 million watching his second inauguration four short years ago. So we know people are also watching the inauguration on different screens and in different modes. And that there was, I mean, for me there was a prediction of a downpour of rain. I think that deterred many people from coming. But no question there were hundreds of thousands of people out on the mall and--

CHUCK TODD: All right, Kellyanne, let me stop you here because--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --you know, many people enthused.

CHUCK TODD: --you make a very reasonable and rational case for why crowd sizes don't matter. Then explain, you did not answer the question, why did the president send out his press secretary, who’s not just the spokesperson for Donald Trump. He could be-- He also serves as the spokesperson for all of America at times. He speaks for all of the country at times. Why put him out there for the very first time in front of that podium to utter a provable falsehood? It's a small thing. But the first time he confronts the public it's a falsehood?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Chuck, I mean, if we're going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms I think that we're going to have to rethink our relationship here. I want to have a great open relationship with our press. But look what happened the day before talking about falsehoods.
We allowed the press-- the press to come into the Oval Office and witness President Trump signing executive orders. And of course, you know, the Senate had just confirmed General Mattis and General Kelly to their two posts. And we allowed the press in. And what happens almost immediately? A falsehood is told about removing the bust of Martin Luther King Junior from the Oval Office. No, that's just flat out false. And the pool writer--

CHUCK TODD: And it was corrected immediately--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: But why -- Chuck, why was it said?

CHUCK TODD: --but Kellyanne, no, let me--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Chuck, why was it said in the first place because--

CHUCK TODD: --I don't know.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --everybody's so presumptively negative--

CHUCK TODD: --climb, climb into the head of that reporter--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: No, that it's okay. No excuse me.

CHUCK TODD: But Miss--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Oh no, no, no, that reporter was writing to-- on behalf of the press pool. That falsehood--

CHUCK TODD: I understand that--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --got spread 3,000 times--

CHUCK TODD: But it does not excuse--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --before it was corrected.

CHUCK TODD: --excuse me. It does not--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: And it's still out there.

CHUCK TODD: --excuse and you did not answer the question.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: I did answer--

CHUCK TODD: No you did not.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --your question.

CHUCK TODD: You did not--


CHUCK TODD: --answer the question of why the president asked the White House press secretary to come out in front of the podium for the first time and utter a falsehood? Why did he do that? It undermines the credibility of the entire White House press office--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: No it doesn't.

CHUCK TODD: --on day one.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Don't be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What-- You're saying it's a falsehood. And they're giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that. But the point remains--

CHUCK TODD: Wait a minute-- Alternative facts?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --that there’s--

CHUCK TODD: Alternative facts? Four of the five facts he uttered, the one thing he got right--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --hey, Chuck, why-- Hey Chuck--

CHUCK TODD: --was Zeke Miller. Four of the five facts he uttered were just not true. Look, alternative facts are not facts. They're falsehoods.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Chuck, do you think it's a fact or not that millions of people have lost their plans or health insurance and their doctors under President Obama? Do you think it's a fact that everything we heard from these women yesterday happened on the watch of President Obama? He was president for eight years. Donald Trump's been here for about eight hours.

Do you think it's a fact that millions of women, 16.1 million women, as I stand here before you today, are in poverty along with their kids? Do you think it's a fact that millions don't have health care? Do you think it's a fact that we spent billions of dollars on education in the last eight years only to have millions of kids still stuck in schools that fail them every single day? These are the facts that I want the press corps to cover--


KELLYANNE CONWAY: --and these are-- this is why I'm here at the White House--

CHUCK TODD: --but I understand this.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --to change awful--

CHUCK TODD: What I don't understand is--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --numbers like that.

CHUCK TODD: --that is not what yesterday was about. So you--


CHUCK TODD: --have not answered the qu-- you did not answer the question the--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: It's what this presidency's going to be about.

CHUCK TODD: --you sent the press secretary out there to utter a falsehood on the smallest, pettiest thing.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: I don't think that anybody can prove the--

CHUCK TODD: And I don’t understand why you did it.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --look, I actually don’t think that-- maybe this is me as a pollster, Chuck. And you know data well. I don't think you can prove those numbers one way or the other. There's no way to really quantify crowds. We all know that. You can laugh at me all you want. But I'm very glad--

CHUCK TODD: I'm not laughing. I'm just--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --look, Chuck, I'm--

CHUCK TODD: --befuddled.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --well, but you are. And I think it's actually symbolic of the way we're treated by the press. The way that you just laughed at me is actually symbolic of the way-- very representative of the way we're treated by the press. I'll just ignore it. I'm bigger than that. I'm a kind and gracious person. But let me tell you something else, I'm really glad that NBC News and Chuck Todd all of a sudden are so thrilled to cover crowd control because we were mocked daily for talking about the significance of our historic rallies--

CHUCK TODD: Listen--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --during the campaign.

CHUCK TODD: --this is not about us--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Donald Trump brought in historic crowds to Michigan--

CHUCK TODD: --it doesn't--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --to Wisconsin, to Pennsylvania, to Florida, to North Carolina. And on great days we were ignored and on most days we were mocked. And those crowds did matter because he built a movement--

CHUCK TODD: Of course they mattered.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --the likes of which people hadn't seen.

CHUCK TODD: What-- but what I don't understand is why he's litigating this? Why stand in front of a memorial at the C.I.A.--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: What else did he say to the C.I.A. though?

CHUCK TODD: --and talk about crowd sizes?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: You don't want to talk about the rest of this-- what he said at the C.I.A. First of all, his very presence at the C.I.A. sent a great message to our men and women, our brave men and women in the intelligence community. He went to the C.I.A. yesterday. He thought he was going to witness the swearing in of his C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo. But you know why that didn't happen, Chuck? Because the United States Senate won't confirm Mike Pompeo as C.I.A. director. Ask Senator Schumer why that is.

CHUCK TODD: That is going to be a question I have--


CHUCK TODD: --for him.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Ask him why-- Ask him why Donald Trump as president has nominated 21 of the 21 cabinet positions only to have two, a grand total of two, confirmed while he takes office? So the Democratic Senate wants to hold up treasury, commerce, energy, education. The list goes on.
We should have the respect and deference of having a cabinet seated so this peaceful transition of power occurs properly. But he went to the C.I.A. because lies have been told about his relationship and his respect for the intelligence community. So he went right there. We had over 1,000 requests to attend. We can only accommodate three or four hundred--

CHUCK TODD: Can I-- can I ask you to--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --and he embraced--

CHUCK TODD: --Can I ask you what the lies--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --the intelligence community.

CHUCK TODD: --can I ask you to tell me what lies about the intelligence community were uttered about President Trump's relationship with the intelligence community?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: That he doesn't respect them. Do you think what outgoing C.I.A. director said yesterday in a statement using the vocabulary, the language he used about our new president of the United States somehow, quote, improves our relationship with the intelligence community? It is irresponsible. It is reprehensible. And it is totally unnecessary.

CHUCK TODD: Okay. Then let me ask you this, is this responsible, he called it, "was disgraceful, intelligence agencies allowed any information, so false and fake out, disgrace, say, that’s something, Nazi Germany would have done and did so." “Disgrace,” that was on January 11th. Was it right to compare the intelligence community with Nazi Germany?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: What's not right, Chuck, is that the day before, you had people releasing a dossier full of junk and lies and fake news. And why did they release the dossier? Because people knew that Russian hacking was fading from view as an election had been totally dismissed as having any credibility or nexus towards our election results.

Hillary Clinton lost that election fairly and squarely basically running on the same messages we heard here yesterday in Washington D.C. and elsewhere. I heard, like, a repeat. It was this awful sequel, as awful as the original. We just litigated all this in the campaign.

They came to Washington and said the same thing. Donald Trump, President Trump is very concerned about the leaks that have occurred. And is very concerned that people would really denigrate the way the respect that he has for men and women of the intelligence community. Why don't you go back to his statement on Friday, January 6th after he had an intelligence briefing that he and Vice President Pence won't talk about because it's top secret. And they won't leak about it because you're not supposed to.

They're protecting our intelligence and they're protecting the security of people like you and me and our children, Chuck, by not leaking.

But what he said that day on January 6th, put that statement up for your viewers if you want to do us an honest service. He said in the beginning of the statement, "I respect the service of our great men and women in the intelligence community." And then the last part of the statement was that he looks forward to directing his own intelligence team within 90 days of becoming the president of the United States to give us a better view of cyber security and to put better security measures in place. It'd be nice if he had a C.I.A. director. He doesn't today--

CHUCK TODD: All right I want to--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --because the Democrats are holding up his C.I.A. director.

CHUCK TODD: --I want to go back to a question that you continue to deflect. Why was it necessary to send out the press secretary on his first day in office to utter a provable falsehood that now calls into question everything the press secretary say-- will say from--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: No it doesn't.

CHUCK TODD: --here on out? It will--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: No it doesn't.

CHUCK TODD: --for many Americans.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: No it doesn't. You want them to hear that. You want them to hear that I'm not answering your questions, which I'm doing. You want them to hear that they can't trust our press secretary. I think that it is a very--

CHUCK TODD: What was the motive then?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --dangerous statement to make.

CHUCK TODD: What was the motive to have this ridiculous litigation of crowd size?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: And now you're casting it--

CHUCK TODD: What was the motive?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --and your job is not to give your--

CHUCK TODD: What was the motive?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --opinion, Chuck. Respectfully, your job is not to call things ridiculous that are said by our press secretary and our president. That's not your job. You're supposed to be a news person. You're not an opinion columnist.

CHUCK TODD: Can you please answer the question? Why did he do this? You have not answered it.


CHUCK TODD: It's only one question.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --it this way. I'll answer it this way. Think about what you just said to your viewers. That's why we feel compelled to go out and clear the air and put alternative--

CHUCK TODD: So it's a political tactic?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --facts out there.

CHUCK TODD: It's a political tactic to come up with alternative facts and try to set up the press as your enemy?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: No I didn't say that at all. And that's not why I'm here in this building. I'm here because of all the provable, quantifiable facts, because of the devastation and destruction in our schools with our health care, in our economy, with our small business owners.

And yes, certainly-- with-- with terrorism, infrastructure. This guy is going to do so much in the first week. He's going to talk to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today about the Middle East, about Iran. He's going to end the week receiving Prime Minister Theresa May from the U.K. here. His first foreign leader to be received here.

They're going to help renegotiate U.S./U.K. trade. But you want to talk about things the media doesn't want to cover. You totally missed Brexit and Theresa May. You totally missed Trump's campaign. You want to talk about provable facts? You've missed it all along. America doesn’t really-- I mean, look, you got 14 percent approval rating in the media that you've earned. You want to push back on us. And yet you have a 14 percent--

CHUCK TODD: All I'm looking for is--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --approval rating.

CHUCK TODD: --an answer to a simple question. You never answered why or the motivation of what was necessary about doing that yesterday.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Tell me why you just referred to us as ridiculous. Tell me why--

CHUCK TODD: I said the-- I think the debate--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --we were lied about with the MLK bust.

CHUCK TODD: --is ridiculous. And I did not say--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: You don't think--

CHUCK TODD: --anything about ML-- you’re defl-- look, you're deflecting in order to--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: NBC covered that fa-- NBC covered that false report.

CHUCK TODD: --avoid to answer the question.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: NBC covered that false report as did 3,000 other articles that are still up online. Chuck, you can't have a press coming into the Oval Office on day one of the administration. We welcome them in to be open and gracious and to have a great relationship with the press.

They came in. And the press pooler wrote a false article about the removal of the bust of Martin Luther King Junior days after President Trump met with Martin Luther King III, Martin Luther King Junior's son in New York City. Had a very constructive, open conversation where Martin Luther King Junior's son said, "We have to unify and help heal the country together." And boom, any snarky attempt to try to undercut this president in the Oval Office while he's doing the--

CHUCK TODD: I under-

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --business of the country. I mean, we can't have this kind of relationship.

CHUCK TODD: I completely agree. But--


CHUCK TODD: --I'm sitting here trying to answer basic questions and you're trying to attack me with--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: I'm not attacking you.

CHUCK TODD: --some weird Twitter feed--

KELLYANNE CONWAY: You attacked us as ridiculous.

CHUCK TODD: --with some weird Twitter feed that you guys are obsessed with. Look, I'm going to have to leave it there. You have another interview to go to. I have the rest of the show to go to. Kellyanne Conway I appreciate coming on to share your views.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Ask Chuck Schumer why we don't have cabinet secretaries to prove. We nominated 21, they've approved two.

CHUCK TODD: I will, among the questions I have for him.


CHUCK TODD: Thank you, Kellyanne Conway.