White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany sparred with members of the press on Monday after repeatedly dodging questions about a tweet in which President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP Trump to hold outdoor rally in New Hampshire on Saturday Eighty-eight years of debt pieties MORE blamed NASCAR’s decision to ban the Confederate flag for lower ratings and attacked one of the sport’s most prominent Black drivers.
McEnany defended the tweet, saying Trump was not “making a judgment one way or the other” on whether NASCAR was wrong to ban the Confederate flag from its events. But she declined on several occasions to address why the president called on Bubba Wallace to apologize after a rope fashioned into a noose found in his garage stall in Alabama was determined not to be part of a hate crime.
“The whole point of the tweet was to note the incident, the alleged hate crime that in fact was not a hate crime,” she said. “At the very end, the ban on the flag was mentioned in the broader context that he rejects this notion that somehow NASCAR, men and women who go to these sporting events, are racist.”
She likened the media’s “rush to judgment” when the noose was first reported in Wallace’s stall to the case of Jussie Smollett, an actor who was indicted last year after authorities in Chicago determined he staged a hate crime.
“You’re focusing on one word at the very bottom of a tweet that’s completely taking out of context and neglecting the complete rush to judgment on this,” McEnany said.
Trump earlier Monday tweeted for the first time about the incident involving Wallace and the sport’s decision to ban Confederate flags at events, despite the two having taken place two weeks and a month ago, respectively.
“Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX?” Trump tweeted. “That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!”
An investigation concluded the noose had been in Wallace’s assigned garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway for months. Authorities determined it was not an intentional racist act toward Wallace, but released a photo of the noose.
McEnany began more openly swiping at the press as several reporters followed up on why Trump was calling on Wallace to apologize.
“The FBI, as I noted, concluded this was not a hate crime and he believes it would go a long way if Bubba came out and acknowledged that as well,” McEnany said.
Wallace, who did not personally discover the noose, has acknowledged the findings of the investigation and thanked the sport for taking the matter seriously.
“I’ve explained to you, this is, I guess this is the fourth attempt, but we’ll try again,” McEnany said at one point, again condemning the media’s “rush to judgment.”
After McEnany again did not say why Wallace should apologize, a reporter asked the question yet again.
“I’m not going to answer a question a sixth time,” she said, moving on to another reporter.
McEnany closed her briefing by chiding the media for its focus on Trump’s tweet.
“I was asked probably 12 questions about the Confederate flag. This president’s focused on action. And I’m a little dismayed that I didn’t receive one question on the deaths that we got in this question this weekend,” she said, referring to the burst of gun violence in major cities over the holiday weekend.
Reporters in the room audibly noted that the questions about the Confederate flag were directly in response to Trump’s tweet.
Trump has embraced cultural issues in recent weeks, digging in on positions about monuments, military bases bearing Confederate names and the Black Lives Matter movement. The White House and his allies, however, have struggled to shift the focus away from those issues, particularly those related to race.
Updated at 2:50 p.m.