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Park Service Issues Investigation Results Over Inaugural Photo Alteration Claims

A report released yesterday by the Inspector General for the Department of the Interior concluded that National Park Service (NPS) officials did not alter records on crowd sizes at President Donald Trump's inauguration. The report also found that NPS officials did not leak unauthorized information to the press about a phone call between Trump and Acting NPS Director Michael Reynolds:

We did not find evidence to substantiate any of these allegations. All of the witnesses we interviewed denied that the NAMA official instructed staff to alter records for the inauguration or to remove crowd size information. We also found no evidence that the public affairs employees released any information to the media about the President’s phone call, or that the employee who responded to Reynolds’ request was required to go through the chain of command.

Trump, often through embattled White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, has quibbled over the size of the crowd that attended his inauguration ever since the National Park Service retweeted a post comparing the crowd size at Trump's inauguration to the larger crowd at former President Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration. Two aerial photographs of the National Mall (seen below) reveal large patches of empty space during Trump's swearing-in, spaces the crowds filled at Obama's ceremony. Photographers captured the respective ceremonies around the same time of day, Trump's at 11:04 AM and Obama's at 11:30 AM.


Credit: Source.

NPS officials later removed the tweet, and the U.S. Department of Interior received orders to temporarily suspend operations of its Twitter accounts. A more recent report from CBS News revealed that Trump was "directly involved" in the search for the person who posted the tweet. Emails released by NPS in response to a Freedom of Information Act request reveal the extent of the president's involvement.

"Obviously, this has become a very sensitive issue, especially since the President has gotten directly involved and contacted Acting Director Mike Reynolds concerned about one of the images that was retweeted," wrote Tim Cash, Chief of Digital Strategy at the National Park Service in a January 21 email to Shaun Cavanaugh, the agency's Chief Information Security Officer.

Trump seemed embittered after photographs and public transit statistics disproved his claim that 1.5 million people attended his inauguration, and slammed journalists as “among the most dishonest human beings on earth." Later that week, Sean Spicer said that Trump had drawn “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration."

“These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong,” Spicer said at the time, before claiming that an increased security presence prevented "hundreds of thousands of people" from viewing the ceremony. In fact, the Secret Service said security measures remained largely unchanged, and that there were few reports of long lines or delays at the event.

According to Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking service, neither claim from the Trump administration holds up:

Spicer suggested 720,000 attended Trump’s inauguration, while organizers said they expected 700,000 to 900,000, and Trump himself estimated 1.5 million. All of those figures are less than the 1.8 million people who attended Obama’s 2009 inaugural.

We rate Spicer’s claim Pants on Fire.