CNN anchor Brianna Keilar took Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh to task on Monday, repeatedly pressing him to defend Team Trump’s claim that the president was just “kidding” when he claimed over the weekend that he asked his administration to slow down coronavirus testing.
During his sparsely attended Tulsa rally on Saturday night, President Donald Trump told his supporters that he called on officials to slow COVID-19 testing in order to decrease the number of confirmed cases in the country. A White House official later told The Daily Beast that Trump was “obviously kidding” and Trump aide Peter Navarro claimed on Sunday that the remarks were “tongue-in-cheek.”
In a contentious Monday interview that also featured the CNN anchor grilling Murtaugh on Trump’s recent use of the racist phrase “Kung Flu,” Keilar brought up Trump’s testing comments, asking whether it was true that Trump wanted to slow it down as America passes 120,000 COVID-19 deaths.
“No, it’s not. As a matter of fact, the United States leads the world in testing,” Murtaugh replied, prompting Keilar to immediately wonder why Trump was saying that.
“I understand there’s not much of a sense of humor at CNN center,” Murtaugh sneered. ”But the president was joking. He tried to illustrate the point that when you expand testing, you will naturally expand the number of positive cases that you detect.”
“That was the very point he was making,” he continued. “I’m not surprised that you’re either unable or unwilling to understand the president had a tongue-in-cheek remark there. But that’s the point he’s making.”
Keilar, meanwhile, pointed out that there are now “120,000 Americans dead,” adding: “I do not think that is funny. Do you think that is funny?”
After Murtaugh reiterated the president was just trying to “illustrate the point” about expanded testing, the CNN anchor pointed out that he just said “it’s a joke.”
Stammering, the Trump spokesperson said that one can “use ironic humor” in these situations, prompting Keilar to again interject.
“Is dead Americans, is unemployed Americans, is that funny to you?” Keilar dryly noted.
“You can ask it 100 different ways,” Murtaugh retorted, causing the CNN host to fire back: “And you won’t answer it.”
The Trump flack would go on to repeat his talking points about the president making a factual point about increased testing resulting in more confirmed cases, leaving Keilar with the final word.
“You are aware that hospitalization numbers disprove what you are saying,” she proclaimed. “That testing does not solely account for the numbers we’re seeing, including in Florida, a state you just held up as a model when it certainly is not.”
“It is not funny that Americans are dying, she concluded as a stone-faced Murtaugh stood silent. “It’s not funny that they’re unemployed. Tim Murtaugh, thank you for coming on.”