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Return of the Inauguration Crowd Size Matter

Unnamed complainant alleges Park Service mishandled photos

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer makes a statement to members of the media at a White House briefing on Jan. 21. (Alex Wong/Getty Images file photo)
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer makes a statement to members of the media at a White House briefing on Jan. 21. (Alex Wong/Getty Images file photo)

A new Interior Department inspector general report is further muddying the already murky situation surrounding White House claims that the crowd at President Donald Trump’s inauguration was the largest in American history.

The report found “no evidence to substantiate” complaints that National Park Service employees altered records related to crowd-size estimates for Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration. The IG also investigated and found no evidence to support the unnamed complainant’s allegation that a Park Service employee mishandled photos of the event and posted political comments on Facebook.

On Trump’s first full day in office, Jan. 21, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer appeared at the briefing room podium to declare “members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting” on Inauguration Day. “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period, both in person and around the globe,” Spicer said.

The White House never clearly explained why Spicer made the statement. During that briefing, Spicer even acknowledged that the National Park Service, which is part of the Interior Department, is not in the business of counting crowd sizes on the National Mall.

“Inaccurate numbers involving crowd size were also tweeted,” Spicer said that day. “No one had numbers, because the National Park Service, which controls the National Mall, does not put any out.”

The White House, after sparring with the media over the matter for weeks, eventually moved on, overshadowed by the new administration’s agenda and other topics such as Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey.

Fast forward a few months and the Interior Department’s inspector general report revives the topic, but without providing any clarity by omitting names of who was accusing whom of what.

The allegations were made against an official in the Park Services’ National Mall and Memorial Park shop, stemming from comments made while watching Spicer’s Jan. 21 announcement and subsequent meetings.

The report said the allegations boiled down to the following: 

  • That an NPS National Mall and Memorial Parks official instructed NPS employees to alter records related to crowd-size estimates for the inauguration ceremony.
  • That two NPS public affairs employees released information to the press, without authorization, about a Jan. 21, 2017 phone call from President Donald Trump to Acting NPS Director Michael Reynolds.
  • That one of the public affairs employees circumvented the NPS chain of command for the inauguration when responding to a request from Reynolds (although the complainant did not know what Reynolds requested, we determined that Reynolds asked the public affairs employee to help obtain inauguration photographs after the President requested them during the Jan. 21 phone call).
  • That a NAMA employee assigned to the inauguration engaged in personal activities at work that interfered with the performance of his duties.

In sum, the IG report describes the incident as much ado about nothing.