The National Park Service released aerial photos of the inaugurations of President Barack Obama in 2009 and President Donald Trump in 2017, and Obama appears to have attracted the larger crowd.
The photos, obtained by BuzzFeed through a Freedom of Information Act request, show various angles near the National Mall, where presidential inaugurations take place. With Obama's inauguration crowd appearing to be larger than Trump's, the photos offer evidence that counters a narrative pushed by Trump: that he attracted more people to his swearing-in ceremony.
Shortly after taking his oath as president of the United States, Trump visited CIA headquarters and, in a speech, said the media was lying about the crowd size during his inauguration.
"I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field," Trump said during the speech, according to BuzzFeed. "I’m like, wait a minute. I made a speech. I looked out, the field was, it looked like a million, million and a half people."
Trump also said the crowd "went all the way back to the Washington monument," according to The Associated Press.
According to The Washington Post, Trump personally called National Park Service Director Michael T. Reynolds to request more photos of his inauguration and Obama's inauguration to compare the crowd sizes, even though aerial photos were available at the time and showed that Obama's 2009 inauguration appeared to have had more people in the audience.
White House staff continued to defend Trump's statement in the days following the inauguration.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer later told the White House press corps that Trump's crowds were indeed bigger, and Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway told CNN that the White House message was factual.
"You're saying it's a falsehood," she told CNN's Chuck Todd. "And they're giving -- Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts."
After pressing Conway about the "alternative facts" comment, Todd asked about the constant defense of Trump's statement.
"What was the motive to have this ridiculous litigation of crowd size?" Todd asked.
"Your job is not to call things ridiculous that are said by our press secretary and our president," Conway responded. "That's not your job."
Todd added: "Can you please answer the question? Why did he do this? You have not answered it; it's only one question."
"I'll answer it this way," Conway said. "Think about what you just said to your viewers. That's why we feel compelled to go out and clear the air and put alternative facts out there."