President Donald Trump said Wednesday that while he did go down to the White House bunker last Friday, he did so before protests hit peak intensity, and then only for a “short inspection,” not to take refuge.
Trump told Fox News host Brian Kilmeade’s radio show on Wednesday that multiple media reports characterizing the president’s descent into the bunker as driven by fear for his personal safety were inaccurate.
“It was a false report,” Trump said, adding, “I went down during the day and I was there for a tiny, little short period of time and it was much more for an inspection.”
Trump denied that he went into the bunker at the urging of his Secret Service detail, contradicting a New York Times article that first reported the alleged incident, citing anonymous sources. They claimed the president and his family members were whisked to safety at the insistence of agents as initially peaceful protests over the police custody death of George Floyd grew violent.
The Associated Press later reported, also citing anonymous sources, that Trump spent about an hour in the shelter on Friday night, as hundreds of protesters gathered outside the executive mansion, some of them throwing rocks and tugging at police barricades.
In his conversation with Kilmeade, Trump insisted that his presence in the bunker, also known as the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, was during the day and had a different purpose than was widely reported.
“They told me to go down and ‘take a look’ just to check it out,” Trump said, adding, “I can’t tell you who went with me but a whole group of people went with me, as an inspecting factor, I was back up, and, Brian, it was during the day, it wasn’t during the night.”
The scale of the coast-to-coast protests following the death of Floyd have rivaled the historic demonstrations of the civil rights and Vietnam War eras. Yet many demonstrations that started off peaceful during the day after nightfall degenerated into chaotic scenes of looting, fire-setting, and violence.
Curfews have been imposed in major cities around the United States, and thousands of National Guard soldiers and airmen were activated in states across America.
Blaming far-left radicals and anarchists for hijacking the protests, Trump has called for a tough law enforcement response to quell the violence, even warning that he might invoke the Insurrection Act to send in soldiers to keep the peace.
While Defense Secretary Mark Esper authorized the movement of around 1,300 active-duty Army personnel to military bases just outside Washington, he told reporters on Wednesday that he did not believe that, at this time, the situation warrants their deployment to protests.
Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Wednesday that Trump may, if necessary, call on the military to intervene.
“If needed, he will use it,” she told reporters at a White House briefing. “But at this time he’s relying on surging the streets with National Guard. It’s worked with great effect.”
McEnany cited improvement in places like Minneapolis and the nation’s capital, where the National Guard was deployed, as evidence that tougher measures were working.
“The weak-kneed policies of New York stand in stark contrast to the law and order policies of this president,” she said, referring to the reluctance of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to summon the National Guard even as a wave of street violence hammered Manhattan, leaving businesses vandalized.
In an earlier tweet, the president urged New York authorities to bring in the Guard, saying, “The lowlifes and losers are ripping you apart. Act fast!”
Trump on Wednesday told Kilmeade: “Washington is in great shape. We called out the National Guard after the first night, which was a little bit rougher, but then after that we called up and we have—I—I jokingly said, a little bit jokingly, maybe, it’s one of the safest places on earth.”