President Trump’s former press secretary, Sean Spicer, famously insisted that the 2017 presidential inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. That, of course, was a lie. But Spicer eventually trotted out the photos to “prove” it. The part we didn’t know at the time? The White House had requested photos from the National Park Service on January 21 that had to be cropped to make the crowd look larger than it really was.
The Guardian obtained new documents through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the National Park Service’s (NPS) Inspector General office that paint a bizarre picture of panic behind the scenes after Trump’s inauguration. President Trump called NPS director, Michael Reynolds, in the early morning after the inauguration on January 21, 2017, and while we don’t know the exact details of what they talked about, we now know that Sean Spicer called Reynolds repeatedly asking for what the Guardian describes as “more flattering” photos.
The NPS famously retweeted a photo showing that Trump’s crowd was much smaller than Obama’s, sending people in the White House into a rage. The retweets were eventually removed from the NPS’s official account. But this strange incident would set the stage for the rest of the Trump presidency. It’s unclear how the cropped photos were eventually used.
From the Guardian:
An NPS communications official, whose name was redacted in the released files, told investigators that Reynolds called her after speaking with the president and said Trump wanted pictures from the inauguration. She said “she got the impression that President Trump wanted to see pictures that appeared to depict more spectators in the crowd”, and that the images released so far showed “a lot of empty areas”.
The communications official said she “assumed” the photographs Trump was requesting “needed to be cropped”, but that Reynolds did not ask for this specifically. She then contacted the NPS photographer who had covered the event the day before.
A second official, from the NPS public affairs department, told investigators that Spicer called her office on the morning of 21 January and asked for pictures that “accurately represented the inauguration crowd size”.
Of course, this isn’t the most pressing issue facing the American people right now. That would be the continuing strain that the Trump regime is having on democratic norms as people inside the White House warn that he’s unfit to be president. Things are only going to get worse before they get any better.
But the race to receive (and even edit) more flattering photographs for public consumption is just one more sign that this administration is only concerned with appearances, not with the health and safety of the American people. And with President Trump running around calling everyone and everything “fake news,” it’s pretty rich that he leaned on the NPS so heavily for photos that would soothe his ego.