Donald Trump was abruptly escorted out of a press briefing by a Secret Service agent on Monday after an armed suspect was shot outside the White House.
The president was just minutes into his coronavirus briefing when a Secret Service agent asked Trump to leave the podium and quickly exit the room along with other administration officials.
Reporters were briefly placed into lockdown as members of the president’s security detail surrounded the West Wing. One Fox News correspondent said they’d heard two shots fired soon before Trump was hurried out.
Trump returned to the stage around 10 minutes later to confirm someone had been taken to hospital following a shooting outside of the White House perimeter fence.
“There was an actual shooting and somebody’s been taken to the hospital,” Trump said. The president said the shots were fired by law enforcement.
The suspect was armed, Trump said, but he offered few additional details. “I do want to thank Secret Service. They are fantastic.”
“It seems that the person was shot by the Secret Service so we’ll see what happens,” Trump said, calling the episode “unfortunate.”
“It was outside of the White House,” he said. “It seems that the shooting was done by law enforcement at the suspect, it was the suspect who was shot,” he continued.
Law enforcement officials were trying to determine the suspect’s motive. The Secret Service confirmed the shooting shortly afterwards, describing it as an “officer involved shooting at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Ave”.
A Secret Service statement said: “At approximately 5.53pm today a 51-year-old male approached a US Secret Service uniformed division officer who was standing at his post on the corner of 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW near the White House complex. The suspect approached the officer and told the officer he had a weapon. The suspect then turned around, ran aggressively towards the officer, and in a drawing motion, withdrew an object from his clothing.
“He then crouched into a shooter’s stance as if about to fire a weapon. The Secret Service officer discharged his weapon striking the individual in the torso. Officers immediately rendered first aid to the suspect and DC Fire and EMS were called to the scene. Both the suspect and the officer were transported to local hospitals.
“The White House complex was not breached during the incident and no Secret Service protectees were ever in danger. The Secret Service office of professional responsibility will be conducting an internal review of the officer’s actions. The Metropolitan police department was contacted to conduct an investigation.”
Trump said he had not been taken into the secure underground bunker but to an area near the Oval Office. He later told reporters that he did not fear for his safety.
Asked if he was shaken by the incident, Trump asked reporters: “I don’t know. Do I seem rattled?”
After fielding questions about the incident outside the White House, Trump returned to his scripted remarks on the nation’s economic response to the coronavirus pandemic, promoted what he said were his administration’s achievements, and used the platform for political messaging – warning that if Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wins the election in November, Iran, China and North Korea will “own this country”.
Trump has faced widespread criticism for a lack of federal leadership during the pandemic. More than 163,000 people have died of Covid-19 related illnesses and more than 5m coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the US so far.
During the briefing, the Guardian’s David Smith asked the president: “If 160,000 people had died on President Obama’s watch, do you think you would have called for his resignation?”
Trump responded, “No I wouldn’t have done that. I think it’s been amazing what we’ve been able to do. If we didn’t close up our country, we’d have 1.5 to 2 million people already dead. We’ve called it right. Now we don’t have to close it … If I would’ve listened to a lot of people, we would’ve kept it open.”
The president insisted the US had done an “extraordinary job”.
However, the US government’s own public health expert has admitted that more lives would have been saved if the US had adopted social distancing restrictions earlier. Throughout the pandemic, Trump has strongly resisted efforts to put in place federal restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, has pushed states to reopen and has expressed sympathy to rightwing protests against lockdowns.
Additionally, the US is the only affluent nation, to have suffered a sustained and severe outbreak for more than four months, as the New York Times recently noted.
Sam Levin contributed to this report