White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany held a press conference on Friday following President Trump’s announcement ordering governors to allow churches and other houses of worship to open in their states.
White House reporters asked McEnany about the Trump administration’s safety guidelines and the president’s authority to order the reopening of churches, synagogues, and mosques as “essential.”
“What specific provision of federal law allows the president to override a governor’s stance?” one reporter asked.
“The president will strongly encourage every governor to allow their churches to reopen,” McEnany responded, “and boy, it’s interesting to be in a room that desperately wants to seem to see these churches and houses of worship stay closed.”
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Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason immediately rebuffed the press secretary.
“Kayleigh, I object to that because I go to church, I’m dying to go back to church,” Mason told McEnany. “The question that we’re asking you and would have liked to have asked the president and Dr. Birx is … is it safe? And if it’s not safe, is the president trying to encourage that or does the president agree with Dr. Birx that people should wait?”
“Jeff, it is safe to reopen your churches if you do so in accordance to the guidelines,” McEnany answered.
Mason later clarified to McEnany that he and his press colleagues “celebrate” the First Amendment right to freedom of religion but that the questions are not about whether President Trump is allowing Americans to “pray,” which McEnany shot back that he’s allowing people to “gather in their places of worship.”
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Tensions further escalated towards the end of the briefing when One America News Network reporter Chanel Rion asked McEnany if President Trump was considering “pardoning” former President Obama for what she called “illegal spying on U.S. citizens,” which follows Attorney General William Barr’s comments suggesting that neither Obama nor former Vice President Joe Biden will face criminal charges as part of the ongoing Durham investigation.
McEnany told Rion that she had “not spoken” to the president regarding that question but quickly pivoted to the “series of questions” the press secretary previously laid out to journalists regarding the handling of the Flynn investigation.
“I just wanted to follow up with you guys on that — did anyone take it upon themselves to pose any questions about Michael Flynn and the unmasking to President Obama’s spokesperson?” McEnany asked the White House reporters.
The rest of the room remained silent.
“Oh, not a single journalist has posed that question,” McEnany reacted.
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As ABC News White House correspondent Jonathan Karl attempted to interject on the premise of her assertion, the press secretary then proceeded with a slideshow presentation of questions she believes journalists should be asking.
“No.1, why did the Obama administration use opposition research funded by a political organization and filled with foreign dirt to spy on members of the Trump campaign?” McEnany began, referring to the infamous Steele dossier. “No. 2, why was Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn unmasked not by the intel community entirely but Obama’s chief of staff, by the former Vice President Joe Biden, by Susan Rice, by the treasury secretary? I mean, this is extraordinary. You know, if it were political appointees in a Trump administration, I can guarantee you I’d have questions in my inbox right now but apparently Obama’s spokesperson does not.”
Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, did not appear on the unmasking list. However, Rice’s declassified email to herself regarding an Oval Office meeting about the Flynn surveillance has raised eyebrows in Washington.
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“Why was Flynn’s identity leaked? In a criminal act, it is a criminal act to leak the identity of Michael Flynn to the press but it happened. Where are the questions to Obama’s spokesperson?” McEnany asked. “Because my team would be running around this building should this have happened under the Trump administration.”
She continued, “Why did the DOJ’s Sally Yates learn about the unmasking from President Obama? So much for going ‘by the book’ as Susan Rice said three times. Thou doth protest too much, Susan Rice. And finally, question No. 5, why did James Clapper, John Brennan, Samantha Power, and Susan Rice privately admit under oath that they had no evidence of collusion while saying the opposite publicly?”
“It’s a long weekend, you guys have three days to follow up on those questions,” McEnany told reporters.