President Donald Trump's false claims about his inauguration crowds, reinforced by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer with a series of additional false claims, might seem like a small issue.
But it cuts to the heart of concerns about the new administration from the campaign and could foreshadow further conflict.
Spicer reassured the public that "our intention is never to lie to you" in his first press briefing Monday and acknowledged that one of his statements regarding Metro ridership on Inauguration Day was wrong. But he stood by his claim that Trump's inauguration was the most watched in history, pivoting to a debate over online streaming audiences that was separate from the president's initial false assertion that up to 1.5 million people attended the event in person.
Trump had moved on to another falsehood by that evening in a meeting with Congressional leaders, two sources told NBC News, where he expounded on a debunked accusation that millions of undocumented immigrants voted for his opponent Hillary Clinton. There is no evidence for the theory, which appears to have originated on conspiracy sites after the election, but Trump has raised it before to justify his popular vote loss.
From his first moments as a candidate, Trump regularly made statements that were not only untrue but were easily debunked. In many instances, Trump used these "alternative facts" to paint a dire picture of the country that he claimed so-called experts were deliberately hiding from view. Often, numbers that he denounced as inaccurate were compiled by government agencies his appointees will now oversee.
This dynamic raises questions about whether he will accept their findings as president or apply pressure to change the results if they run counter to his goals. Some activists spent the weeks leading up to Trump's inauguration archiving government reports on issues like climate change for fear they might become inaccessible later. Concerns about Trump's relationship have been reinforced by his intense skepticism of America's intelligence community as well as his penchant for conspiracy theories.