McEnany’s response to this question might have been the most puzzling of all, contrasting Biden’s public use of a mask with what he does in his home.
After slipping in a dig at Biden for not venturing out in public during the coronavirus outbreak in recent weeks, she added: “It is a bit peculiar, though, that in his basement right next to his wife, he’s not wearing a mask, but he’s wearing one outdoors when he’s socially distant. So I think that there was a discrepancy there.”
That’s being very kind to the word “discrepancy.” This is not something health officials have said is a worthy difference in approaches.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend wearing a mask when at home with family members (unless you are ill or are caring for someone who is). It does, however, recommend wearing masks in public, which Biden was doing at the Memorial Day ceremony.
Pressed on this point, McEnany said: “The guidance is it’s recommended but not required. So it’s the personal choice of the individual. But it didn’t strike [Trump] as a very data-driven decision in that particular incidence.” The CDC would obviously disagree on the idea that this approach isn’t data-driven, but it all reinforces the White House’s extremely confusing and curious posture toward masks.
Next came another of Trump’s Twitter exploits, in which he has pushed for a reexamination of a baseless conspiracy theory about MSNBC host Joe Scarborough’s role in the death of an aide who previously served in his congressional office.
The widower of the aide has asked Twitter to take down Trump’s tweets, saying the president “has taken something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain.”
Rather than defend the tweets, though, McEnany tried to divert attention to something else entirely, playing up an interview Scarborough gave in 2003 in which radio host Don Imus joked about killing an intern with whom the recently retired Scarborough had hypothetically had an affair.
“I would note that the president said this morning that this is not an original Trump thought, and it is not, in fact,” McEnany said. “[In] 2003 on Don Imus, his show, it was Don Imus and Joe Scarborough that joked about killing an intern, joked and laughed about it. So that was, I’m sure, pretty hurtful to Lori’s family.”
The gaslighting practically slaps you across the face. Whatever you think about how Scarborough handled the line of questioning from Imus, it does nothing to change the fact that Trump has elevated this conspiracy theory 17 years hence. The aide, Lori Klausutis, wasn’t an intern. There remains absolutely no evidence of Scarborough’s involvement, and there are myriad reasons that it’s baseless.
McEnany didn’t dwell on the substance of the claims, mind you; she sought instead to suggest that Scarborough’s answers to Imus’s questioning implicated him in something or were just as bad as what Trump is doing today.
Even if you somehow accept that McEnany wasn’t trying to seed doubt about Scarborough’s supposed role in the former aide’s death, though, it’s a striking bit of whataboutism: Yes, the president is trafficking in this baseless theorizing about a murder plot, but look at what Scarborough said about this!
McEnany saved perhaps her biggest whopper for late in the briefing. After being pressed on these things, she sought out a more friendly line of questioning from One America News Network’s Chanel Rion, a pro-Trump reporter who has flouted White House press corps social distancing guidelines and has trafficked in conspiracy theories that the coronavirus began in the United States.
Rion asked McEnany about former CIA director John Brennan, at which point McEnany lodged a baseless claim about the Steele dossier full of unverified claims about Russia and Trump.
“John Brennan probably has the most to answer, because it was John Brennan who sat before Congress and said the Steele dossier — paid for by Hillary Clinton, paid for by the [Democratic National Committee] — that document played no part of the role in opening the Russia probe, when in fact we know it did — when in fact, we know it was the impetus,” McEnany said, “and testified before a [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court for its truthfulness to spy on the Trump campaign.”
There’s a lot to unpack there. First, the claim that the document played a part in opening the Russia investigation is false. That investigation began in the summer of 2016, while the dossier came later in the fall. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz has reported that, in fact, “Steele’s reports played no role in the Crossfire Hurricane opening.” (Crossfire Hurricane is the code name for the Russia investigation.)
The idea that the CIA spied on the Trump campaign is also highly suspect. The target of the FISA warrant was Carter Page, who was no longer a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign at the time.
Whatever the faults of the Steele dossier — and we’ve known from the beginning that it was full of unconfirmed claims about Trump and Russia — it was not used to launch the Russia probe. McEnany’s decision to promote this long-debunked claim would seem to lay bare exactly how much she intends to adhere to the facts to defend her boss. There were strikingly few used Tuesday.