President Donald Trump on Monday evening used the daily Coronavirus Task Force briefing—purportedly designed to provide the U.S. public with urgent COVID-19 updates—to air a bizarre campaign-style video attacking the press and touting the White House’s response to the pandemic in the wake of new reporting documenting how the administration failed to take decisive early action.
“We have a few clips that we’re just gonna put up, we can turn the lights a little bit lower, I think you’ll find them interesting,” Trump said from the podium. “And then we’ll answer some questions, I’ll ask you some questions because you’re so guilty, but forget it. But, most importantly, we’re gonna get back onto the reason we’re here, which is the success we’re having.”
The video featured a compilation of clips of Trump touting actions his administration has taken in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic as well as governors singing the White House’s praises.
“The media minimized the risk from the start,” read the text on one of the video’s slides, which were accompanied at one point by dramatic background music. At several moments, Trump pointed to the screen and smiled, apparently satisfied with the production.
MSNBC cut away from the briefing as the video progressed, with anchor Ari Melber saying the network would go back to the briefing “when it returns to what it was supposed to be, which was the Coronavirus Task Force providing medical information.”
“What we just saw, I want to be very clear with viewers, was a video the White House put out which suggests they are spending their precious time right now making videos that defend the president’s record and tenure rather than provide the much-needed emergency medical information that was promised,” said Melber.
John King, chief national correspondent for CNN, described the video as “propaganda aired at taxpayer expense in the White House briefing room.”
Trump confirmed following the conclusion of the video that the brief clip was produced inside the White House. “We’re getting fake news and I’d like to have it corrected,” the president said.
The video appeared to be aimed at countering New York Times reporting over the weekend showing that “throughout January, as Mr. Trump repeatedly played down the seriousness of the virus and focused on other issues, an array of figures inside his government—from top White House advisers to experts deep in the cabinet departments and intelligence agencies—identified the threat, sounded alarms, and made clear the need for aggressive action.”
“The president… was slow to absorb the scale of the risk and to act accordingly, focusing instead on controlling the message, protecting gains in the economy, and batting away warnings from senior officials,” reads the story, which was based on internal administration emails, government records, and interviews with current and former White House officials.
The Coronavirus Task Force briefing on Monday took another alarming turn when Trump asserted that “when somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total.”
“And that’s the way it’s gotta be. It’s total,” said Trump, declaring that he has the power to overrule governors if they disagree with his push to lift social distancing guidelines and reopen the U.S. economy.
TRUMP: “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that’s the way it’s gotta be. It’s total.” pic.twitter.com/zIuiBn1Mhw
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 13, 2020
“Trump’s claim is false—governors have broad authority to close schools and businesses in their states,” noted Vox‘s Aaron Rupar. “Unsurprisingly, when Trump [was] pushed to articulate a legal justification for his position, he couldn’t come up with anything.”