White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany repeatedly failed on Monday to explain what Bubba Wallace has to apologize for after President Donald Trump demanded one from NASCAR’s only black driver.
Pressed repeatedly during her 20 minute press briefing, McEnany emphasized over and over again the president’s tweet should be taken ‘in aggregate’ but did not delve into the specifics of what he meant in his attack on Wallace.
‘I’m not going to answer a question a sixth time,’ a visibly exacerbated press secretary said at one point.
Trump launched the seemingly out-of-the-blue broadside on Wallace Monday, demanding the 26-year-old driver apologize to those who supported him when it was reported a noose had been found in his garage stall. The president also claimed NASCAR races have had a lower viewership since organizers banned the Confederate flag from its events.
McEnany struggled to explain the meaning behind the president’s tweet. She attempted to make it a broader commentary on a ‘rush to judgement’ culture and to blame the media for calling it a hate crime when it was Trump’s own Justice Department that opened the investigation into whether or not it was one. The FBI concluded it was not.
‘The president was noting the fact that – in aggregate – this notion that NASCAR men and women who have gone and who are being demeaned and called racist and being accused in some venues of committing a hate crime,’ she said, ‘those allegations were just dead wrong.’
Pressed repeatedly during her 20 minute press briefing on what President Trump meant in his tweet, a visibly exacerbated press secretary Kayleigh McEnany emphasized over and over again the tweet should be taken ‘in aggregate’
President Trump attacked NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace seemingly out of the blue on Monday, demanding he apologize to his supporters who stood up for him after a report of a noose in his garage stall
But McEnany didn’t answer when grilled about the specifics, such as why Wallace should apologize and what is the president’s stance on the Confederate flag, which many see as a racist, divisive symbol.
‘The whole point of the tweet was to note the incident, the alleged hate crime that, in fact, was not a hate crime. At the very end, the ban on the flag was mentioned the broader context of the fact that he rejects this notion that somehow NASCAR men and women who go to the sporting events are racist when in fact, as it turns out, what we saw with the FBI report and the alleged incident of hate crime, it was a complete indictment of the media’s rush to judgment once again, calling this a hate crime when the FBI completely dismissed that,’ she said.
She also said the president thought it would ‘go a long way’ if Wallace personally addressed the matter, which the driver did back in June after the FBI released its findings.
‘Look the FBI, as I noted, concluded that this was not a hate crime, and he believes it go a long way if Bubba came out and acknowledged that as well,’ she said.
She ignored follow-up questions on her answers and moved on to reporter after reporter in the room, most of whom returned to the topic of the president’s tweet.
She also compared Wallace to the Jussie Smollett – the actor was accused of staging a racist attack. No one has made such an accusation against Wallace.
‘I have explained to you — I guess it was a failed attempt but we’ll will try again,’ McEnany said when a fourth reporter asked her about the tweet.
‘In aggregate, what he was pointing out was this rush to judgment to immediately call it a hate crime as happened in this case, as happened with Jussie Smollett,’ she said. ‘In an aggregate, those actions made it seem like NASCAR men and women were racist individuals who were roaming around and engaging in a crime. The president’s intent was to say no, most American people are good, hardworking people, and we should not have this rush to judgment, knee-jerk reaction, before the facts come out.’
Wallace had not seen the noose that was found in his garage stall at the Talladega Superspeedway at the end of June. A member of his team found it and flagged it to authorities. Steve Phelps, the president of NASCAR, informed Wallace of the finding and it was NASCAR that requested the investigation. An FBI probe found it had been there since at least October 2019 – used to close and open the garage door – and that Wallace had not been the target of a hate crime.
But President Trump blasted Wallace – a staunch supporter of the Black Lives Matters movement who has worn an ‘I Can’t Breathe’ t-shirt at events – for the ‘hoax’ as he called it. He also criticized NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag from its events.
‘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? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!,’ the president tweeted.
McEnany said his mention of the Confederate flag was not the president’s way of taking a stance on the issue.
‘I spoke to him this morning about this and he said he was not making a judgment one way or the other. The intent of the tweet was to stand up for the men and women of NASCAR,’ she said.
And she again refused to answer what the president’s stance was on the confederate flag.
‘I said his tweet was not to indicate approval or disapproval of that particular policy at NASCAR. It was, in aggregate, to stand against the rush to judgment, to call something a hate crime before the facts were out, when clearly the media was wrong about this,’ she said.
She repeatedly accused reporters of mischaracterizing Trump’s tweet from Monday morning.
‘You are focusing on one word at the very bottom of a tweet. That is completely taking it out of context,’ she said.
Trump’s demand came after he made two fiery speeches over the Fourth of July holiday weekend that used divisive language to describe the Black Lives Matters protests that sprung up around the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death. He called them ‘angry mobs’ who sought to ‘unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities’ during his remarks Friday evening at Mount Rushmore.
President Trump – seen on the Fourth of July with first lady Melania Trump – attacked Bubba Wallace, demanding the only Black NASCAR driver apologize to those who supported him during an investigation of a noose
Bubba Wallace had not seen the noose found in his garage at Talladega Superspeedway at the end of June but a member of his team found it and flagged authorities
Bubba Wallace’s statement in late June after the FBI finished its investigation
This photo provided by NASCAR shows the noose found in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace at Talladega Superspeedway in June
Wallace, at the time, thanked the FBI for treating the finding as a ‘real threat.’
‘I think we’ll gladly take a little embarrassment over what the alternatives could have been,’ the driver added.
Fellow NASCAR driver Tyler Reddick offered his support to Wallace, tweeting a reply to the president’s tweet that featured a gif of a door being slammed and the words: ‘We don’t need an apology. We did what was right and we will do just fine without your support.’
Reddick later deleted his tweet and retweeted this tweet from Fox Sports’ NASCAR reporter Bob Pockrass instead: ‘ There is nothing to apologize for when: –Taking a perceived threat seriously –People show support for one another –Making policy to be more inclusive & more welcoming –Doing what you feel is right, regardless of any perceived business consequences.’
And Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally, said Wallace has nothing to apologize for.
‘Well, I don’t think Bubba Wallace has anything to apologize for,’ he told Fox News radio on Monday. ‘You saw the best in NASCAR. When there was a chance that it was a threat against Bubba Wallace. they all rallied to Bubba’s side, so I would be looking to celebrate that kind of attitude more than being worried about it being a hoax.’
He also said NASCAR banned the Confederate flag to try and grow the sport’s fan base.
‘They’re trying to grow the sport,’ Graham said.. ‘And I’ve lived in South Carolina all my life and if you’re in business, the Confederate flag is not a good way to grow your business.’
NASCAR, a popular support among Trump supporters, is one of the few sports back in action after many were sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic. It has put into place several protocols to deal with the threat of the virus and also instituted other changes, including banning the Confederate flag from all NASCAR events and properties – something the stock car sport did at Wallace’s urging.
While Trump accused NASCAR of getting low ratings for banning the Confederate flag, ratings were up after the initial decision. Sunday’s ratings, however, for a NASCAR race in Phoenix were down but that decline was in marked contrast to the high ratings for races in the prior two weeks.
The Confederacy has been on Trump’s mind as of late. He threatened to veto the National Defense Authorization Act, which funds the military, if it contains a provision to rename military installations named for figures from the Confederacy, a move that has bipartisan support in Congress.
The NDAA authorizes $731.3 billion in military spending and the Senate is expected to take up debate on it when lawmakers return to Washington D.C. the week of July 20th.
Trump’s tweet also came after a NASCAR stock car, driven by Corey LaJoie and bearing the Trump 2020 logo, was involved in a pit road crash in Indianapolis on Sunday that resulted in a crew member being taken to the hospital and LaJoie exiting the race early.
Wallace, after the FBI concluded its investigation of the noose on June 24, admitted he experienced 24 hours ‘just short of pure hell’ in its wake as several critics accused him of perpetuating a hoax.
The 26-year-old driver thanked the FBI its work and admitted to be relieved that it turned out to be an innocent door pull rather than a racist symbol.
‘It’s been an emotional few days,’ Wallace said in a statement after the FBI released its findings. ‘First off, I want to say how relieved I am that the investigation revealed that this wasn’t what it feared it was. I want to thank my team, NASCAR and the FBI for acting swiftly and treating this as a real threat. I think we’ll gladly take a little embarrassment over what the alternatives could have been.’
In a NASCAR statement on the incident, the rope was described as a ‘garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose.’
The FBI announced that no hate crime had taken place and that the rope – which appeared to be tied into a loop or noose – had been in that stall as early as 2019.
A Youtube video from 2019 showed a similar pull rope hanging from the garage door in the same stall used by Wallace and his team at the Talladega Superspeedway over the weekend. At the time the video was taken, that specific stall was being used by a white driver, Paul Menard.
Other videos from previous years revealed that the garage door ropes – or ‘pulls’ as they’re called – were often tied into similar loops as early as 2016.
Wallace accepted that he wasn’t targeted, as had been feared after his vocal support of removing the Confederate flag from NASCAR tracks in the wake of recent anti-racism protests.
Fellow NASCAR driver Tyler Reddick offered his support to Bubba Wallace
Tyler Reddick deleted his original response to the president and retweeted the above from Fox Sports NASCAR reporter Bob Pockrass instead
Corey LaJoie’s stock car with its Trump 2020 logo
The crew for the car driven by Corey LaJoie looks over the damage to the car after a crash in the pit area during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday
A Youtube video from 2019 showed a pull rope featuring a noose (circled) hanging from the garage door in the same stall used by Wallace and his team at Talladega. At the time the video was taken, it was being used by a white driver, Paul Menard
Videos from 2017 revealed that the garage door ropes at Talladega were often tied into loops
Wallace did take aim at his critics, who accused him of making the inflammatory report.
As Wallace told CNN and NBC’s TODAY at the time, he was not the one who discovered the rope at the Alabama race track, nor was he the one who reported it to NASCAR or the FBI.
Wallace defended himself against the perception that he personally made a false report.
‘It’s still frustrating to know that people are always going to test you and always just gonna try and debunk you,’ he told NBC. ‘That’s what I’m trying to wrap my head around now, from them saying that I’m fake and all this stuff, and I reported it when it was news that was brought to me, it was information that was brought to me that was already reported. So I was just kind of following suit.’
Wallace claims he was suspicious the supposed ‘noose’ was, in fact, a garage door pull, so he went looking for others to see if they were tied in a similar fashion.
‘When I did find out, I was adamant about searching all the other garages and making sure that this wasn’t a garage pull, and it ended up being one,’ he told NBC.
As for his mistaken belief that the rope was a racist message sent from an anonymous antagonist, Wallace defended himself by telling CNN that a ‘straight-up noose’ was found in his garage.
‘The photo evidence that I’ve seen, that I have in my possession, of what was in our garage, is exactly a garage pull, it is, that is a noose,’ he said. ‘I don’t know when we get to the point to release that image, but anybody sees it, it’s alerting and it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up for sure.’
He went on to say that he is ‘p****d’ with his critics who are using the incident to minimize accusations of racism within the sport.
The FBI’s statement revealed that 15 federal agents had investigated Wallace’s claim after the alleged noose was found.
Bubba Wallace successfully pushed NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at its venues. After it decided to, disgruntled fans with Confederate flags drove past the main entrance to the Alabama with the flag on display
Team owner Richard Petty, right, stands with driver Bubba Wallace prior to the start of the NASCAR Cup Series at the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama, Monday
A crew member for Richard Petty Motorsports had discovered the noose. The image of a noose recalls the lynching of black Americans in decades gone by and authorities investigated it as a possible hate crime.
However, the FBI stated that ‘the noose found in garage number 4 was in that garage as early as October 2019’, long before the recent protests.
‘Although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week,’ the statement said, saying that ‘no federal crime’ had been committed.
‘The decision not to pursue federal charges is proper after reviewing all available facts and all applicable federal laws,’ the statement concluded. ‘We offer our thanks to NASCAR, Mr. Wallace, and everyone who cooperated with this investigation.’
NASCAR released its own statement referring to the ‘noose’ as a ‘garage door pull rope’ and accepted the FBI’s finding that ‘this was not an intentional, racist act’.
‘For us in NASCAR, this is the best result we could hope for,’ NASCAR president Steve Phelps said after the FBI findings were announced.
‘This is … disturbing to hear that it was thought that one of our own had committed this heinous act. It is fantastic to hear from the FBI, definitively, that there was not a hate crime.
‘I do want to make sure everyone understands that, if given the evidence that we had was delivered to us on late Saturday afternoon, we would do the same thing. We would have done the same investigation. It was important for us to do. There is no place in our sport for this type of racism or hatred. It’s not part of who we are as a sport.’
Wallace said at the time he was ‘p****d’ by social media comments suggesting he had somehow fabricated the incident, stressing he had already left the garage when someone else spotted the noose.
The driver said he was ‘mad because people are trying to test my character and the person that I am and my integrity’.
‘They’re not stealing that away from me, but they’re just trying to test that,’ he said.
‘The image I’ve seen of what was hanging in my garage was not a garage pull,’ he said.
‘I have been racing all my life, we have raced out of hundreds of garages that never had garage pulls like that.’
Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in NASCAR, is a staunch supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and encouraged NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at its events
NASCAR drivers push the #43 Victory Junction Chevrolet, driven by Bubba Wallace, to the front of the grid as a sign of solidarity with the driver, who had pushed NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag in its venues which made some fans unhappy
Confederate flags are a common sight for NASCAR, which originated in the south and remains a large part of the region’s identity. Race fans take a photo with a Confederate flag in the Fan Zone before a NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in 2015
Referring to the announcement of an investigation into the presence of the rope and the condemnation by the NASCAR leadership, the racer added, ‘The FBI has stated it was a noose over and over again. The NASCAR leadership has stated it was a noose. I can confirm that,’ he said.
‘I actually got evidence of what was hanging in my garage, over my car, around my pit crew guys, to confirm that it was a noose. And never seen anything like it.
‘I talked to my crew chief about it. I wanted to make sure we weren’t jumping the gun.
‘I said ‘this isn’t a knot?’ He said, ‘Bubba, this isn’t something that can be done within a second of just tying a knot and being on the way. This is something that took time.”
Asked by CNN if he believed it was directed at him, an irate Wallace added: ‘It was a noose. It was a noose whether it was tied in 2019 or whatever, it was a noose.
‘So, it wasn’t directed at me but somebody tied a noose, that is what I am saying.’