The reporters in the room were clearly at least somewhat skeptical of the extent to which they could take McEnany at her word. At one point, a reporter asked her to pledge that she would never lie to the reporters and, by extension, the public.
“I will never lie to you,” McEnany replied. “You have my word on that.”
Fifteen minutes later, she raised a subject no one had asked about and quickly offered an obviously false claim about it.
Another reporter had asked whether the apparent revocation of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s early release from prison was a function of intervention from the White House. Cohen, you’ll recall, flipped on Trump, testifying to investigators and Congress about hush-money payments to two women during the campaign, payments Trump had denied.
After denying any intervention, McEnany used the question to pivot to a justice-related subject more in keeping with what she wanted to talk about.
“I am glad that you brought up justice, and — because, look, there is, again, a case of injustice that has yet to be brought up today, but I certainly would like to bring it up,” she said. “And that’s the case of General Michael Flynn.”
She offered a rough presentation of the case being made by Flynn’s defenders that the former national security adviser was railroaded into accepting a guilty plea after misrepresenting his 2016 interactions with Russia’s ambassador during a conversation with FBI investigators. This week, the Justice Department released documents centered on the investigation, which included notes written before Flynn was interviewed by the FBI at the White House. They’ve been touted as a smoking gun showing bias against Flynn, though that interpretation is dubious.
What the notes did not say is what McEnany said they did.
“All of that information we’ve learned over the last few months and years,” she said, “culminates in the fact that we had a handwritten FBI note that says, quote, we need to get Flynn to lie, quote, and get him fired. That was — there was an unfair target on the back of General Michael Flynn. It should concern every American.”
McEnany’s use of “quote” in that context is confusing, since she doesn’t mark the end point of what she’s purportedly quoting. But it doesn’t really matter, since her presentation is false, deeply misleading — or both.
Let’s assume she’s saying the notes said, “We need to get Flynn to lie” and “get him fired.” They didn’t. One section of the notes, which you can see below, asked the following:
What’s our goal? Truth/admission or to • get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?
The notes do include the phrases “get him to lie” and “get him fired” — but not in the context of being explicit, established goals of the interview. They are posed as questions about possible ways of confronting Flynn, not as a plan of action. What’s more, there’s no “we need to get Flynn to lie” statement at all, as McEnany asserted. Even aside from the context surrounding the notes, her presentation makes the situation seem much more explicitly hostile to Flynn than it was.
But we can’t set aside the question of context. The section labeled “Afterwards” explores a sort of flowchart of possibilities for dealing with Flynn. Remember, the FBI had in hand evidence that the then national security adviser had discussed subjects with the Russian ambassador that he denied discussing to officials within the administration. The notes discuss whether to show that evidence to Flynn, what to do if he admitted discussing sanctions, what to do if he didn’t, and how to navigate the tricky politics of interviewing a member of the administration that oversees the bureau.
As The Post’s Aaron Blake wrote Thursday, the question of why an FBI official would even raise the question of having the “goal” of firing an official is an important one — though not one that’s inherently unanswerable. (That the subject at hand included the possibility of Russia having leverage over Flynn, for example, meant that the FBI had a valid reason to be concerned about the position he held.)
That is beside the point here, however. The point here is that McEnany, to make a point that she herself raised, presented the scenario in an obviously false way. Perhaps the placement of the quote marks was an accident and she meant to say that the notes said that the FBI needed to get Flynn “to lie” — but even then, the intent of her raising it pointed in another direction. She was trying to impugn the FBI’s work and presented the notes inaccurately as she did so.
If her goal was to establish her credibility as press secretary, she very quickly got off to a bad start.