Was Trump Asking a ‘Sarcastic Question’ When He Discussed Disinfectants at a Press Briefing?

It’s safe to say he wasn’t.

President Trump made remarks about disinfectant and “cleaning” as a treatment for coronavirus during Thursday’s coronavirus task force briefing that led to disagreement about how to interpret what he said. Many in the media reported that Trump suggested injecting disinfectant into patients with coronavirus could be used as a treatment to kill the virus. Others denied he’d made the claim.

For the record, here’s the relevant part of the quote:

“I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets inside the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

On Friday, the president denied he was seriously suggesting injecting disinfectant, saying from the Oval Office, “I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen. Now disinfectant or doing this maybe on the hands would work. I was asking the question of the gentleman who was there yesterday, Bill [Bryan], because when they say that something will last to three to four hours of six hours, but if sun is out, or if they use disinfectant, it goes away in less than a minute. Did you hear about this yesterday? But I was asking a sarcastic—a very sarcastic question to the reporters in the room about disinfectant on the inside, but it does kill it, and it would kill it on the hands and that would make things much better. That was done in the form of a sarcastic question to the reporters.”

When a reporter challenged him and said Trump had addressed the question to his medical experts, asking them to look into it, Trump replied:  “No, no, no, no, no. To look into whether or not sun and disinfectant on the hands, but whether or not sun can help us.”

During the same briefing the president claimed again that he was being sarcastic, saying, “No, of course not. That, interior wise, it was said sarcastically. It was put in the form of a question to a group of extraordinary hostile people. Namely, the fake news media."

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany also issued a statement Friday: “President Trump has repeatedly said that Americans should consult with medical doctors regarding coronavirus treatment, a point that he emphasized again during yesterday's briefing. Leave it to the media to irresponsibly take President Trump out of context and run with negative headlines."

As the debate continues as to whether or not the president actually meant what he said, it’s worth looking back on his entire quote and what came before. Bill Bryan, the Department of Homeland Security's acting undersecretary for science and technology, spoke about new research into the effect of disinfectants on coronavirus when on surfaces, which found that bleach kills coronavirus in five minutes and isopropyl alcohol kills it in 30 seconds. Then, the president said:

“So I asked Bill a question that probably some of you are thinking of, if you’re totally into that world, which I find to be very interesting. So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous—whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light—and I think you said that that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you’re going to test that too. It sounds interesting. Right. And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds—it sounds interesting to me. So we’ll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute, that’s—that’s pretty powerful.”

It is clear in both reading and watching the president’s comments that what the president said about disinfectants was addressed to Bill Bryan and not posed “in the form of a sarcastic question to a reporter.” Another camera angle makes it even more apparent that when raising possibilities about light and disinfectant as treatments, Trump turned to address Bryan. In his comments to reporters on Friday, the president claimed again that he was addressing a sarcastic question to the “fake news media” and insisted that he’d been looking at a specific reporter, Jeff Mason from Reuters, as he did so. Mason disputed that claim, pointing out to the president that he hadn’t attended the briefing on Thursday. 

POTUS: It was said sarcastically. It was put in the form of a question to a group of extraordinarily hostile people, namely the fake news media.

Jeff Mason, Reuters: Some doctors felt you needed to clarify that after your comments. 

POTUS: Of course, all they had to do was see just -- you know the way I asked it, I was looking at you.

Jeff Mason: No you weren’t sir. I wasn’t there yesterday. 

Weija Yang, CBS News: You were looking at Dr. Birx.

POTUS: What’s that?

Weija Yang: You were looking at Dr. Birx. 

POTUS: I was looking at Bill. I was looking at the doctor. I was looking at some of the reporters. I don’t know if you were there. Were you there? 

Weija Yang: I was there and I watched you ask her.

POTUS: You were there. You were there. You, I never forget.

Also at the briefing Thursday evening, a reporter asked if disinfectants would be injected into a person, leading the president to seemingly contradict his earlier statement. “It wouldn’t be through injection,” he said. “We’re talking about through almost a cleaning, sterilization of an area. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t work. But it certainly has a big effect if it’s on a stationary object.”

But in his attempted clarification on Friday, after asserting it was all sarcasm, Trump repeated his question from Thursday, noting that after he had heard how successful disinfectants were at killing the virus on hard surfaces, he asked Bryan: “Well, how do we do it inside the body or even outside the body? With the hands and disinfectant—I think would work.”