Donald Trump began his first full week as US president firmly on the defensive, after millions of Americans took to the streets to protest against his election and the White House came under fire for brazenly lying to the public.
Rattled by the nation’s biggest political demonstrations since the Vietnam war, Trump and his aides spent an extraordinary first weekend in office falsely claiming that record numbers of people had attended his swearing-in on Friday.
Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, used his first White House briefing to shout at journalists about what he incorrectly termed “deliberately false reporting” on Trump’s inauguration, declaring: “We’re going to hold the press accountable.”
“This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period,” said Spicer, in one of several statements contradicted by photographs and transit data. “These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”
Kellyanne Conway, a senior White House aide, told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday Spicer had merely been offering “alternative facts”, a phrase that was received with widespread astonishment.
Their remarks followed an estimated 2.6 million people in cities across the US attending “women’s march” protests against Trump, who is accused of sexually harassing and assaulting more than a dozen women and was recorded boasting about groping women by the crotch.
As many as a million people were estimated to have flooded the streets of Washington DC for the day’s main march. Hundreds of thousands more protested in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston and in capitals across the world, including London.
The total was far greater than had been anticipated and easily exceeded Trump’s inauguration crowd the day before. The Washington Metro system said 1,001,616 trips were taken on Saturday, compared with about 570,000 on Friday.
But the president on Sunday tried to play down the significance of the demonstrations. “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election,” he said on Twitter. “Why didn’t these people vote?”
A later post to Trump’s account said that he recognised the right of people to demonstrate.