Jimmy Kimmel had a lot to discuss with Sean Spicer on Wednesday night, as President Donald Trump's embattled former press secretary stopped by "Jimmy Kimmel Live" for his first interview since leaving the White House.
"He survived one of the worst jobs ever and is free, at last, to speak about it," Kimmel said by way of introduction, as Spicer walked out to big applause.
They talked Trump's Twitter habits; the term "fake news"; that Melissa McCarthy impression (Spicer deemed it "kind of funny"); whether he'll write a tell-all book (he says no); and, obviously, Anthony Scaramucci. But Kimmel was especially animated about one particular topic - Spicer's debut in front of the White House press corps back in January, with his statements about Trump's inauguration crowd size.
"Right off the bat, your first-ever press conference - you get in there, and it's the day after the inauguration, and you are charged with the job with going in front of the press," Kimmel said with a huge grin, already starting to chuckle. "And saying that the inauguration crowd was the biggest crowd, I think, ever, biggest audience . . ."
"Yes, I'm aware of it," Spicer said, laughing. The audience cracked up and applauded at that line. "I appreciate the reminder of how it went down."
That made Kimmel laugh, too. "Now if it was up to you, would this even have been a topic?" he prodded.
"If it was up to me, I would have probably worn a different suit," Spicer explained. Apparently, he went to work that day to set up his office, unaware that he was going to have to go on TV and tell the world, "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration - period - both in person and around the globe." (The remark earned Four Pinocchios from The Washington Post's Fact Checker.)
Spicer said that Trump "wanted to make sure the record got set straight" and was upset because he felt that people were trying to undermine the validity of his election and didn't want to give him credit for his victory.
Kimmel pointed out that inaugural crowd size and electoral victory are two very different things, and Spicer admitted many in the White House would have rather focused on other issues. "But look, he's president," Spicer said. "He made a decision."
The late-night host appeared fascinated by this. "So if you have to go along, even if you know - and I'm not asking you to say whether it was or not - even if you know the crowd wasn't bigger, you have to go, as press secretary, you have to say that it was."
"Your job as press secretary is to represent the president's voice and to make sure that you are articulating what he believes . . . whether or not you agree or not isn't your job. Your job is to give him advice, which is what we would do on a variety of issues all the time," Spicer said. "But ultimately, he's the president. He would say 'I agree with you' sometimes, or 'That's a good point,' incorporate it; or sometimes he would say, depending on the issue, 'Look, I know what I believe, and this is what I think the right thing to do is.' "
"And then you have to march out there and go, 'Yeah, he had a bigger crowd, everybody!'" Kimmel said mockingly.
"As I said, he's the president; he decides," Spicer said.
"I understand," Kimmel acknowledged.
"And that's what you sign up to do," Spicer concluded.
Kimmel swung back around to the incident one more time, as they discussed Spicer's relationship with the press, showing a video of the time ABC's Jonathan Karl asked if Spicer intended to always tell the truth. Spicer was not pleased with that remark. "To get up there and question, on day one, my integrity, I think was not something that I anticipated," he said.
"Yeah, well, I'm sure. Although when you brought that crowd size thing out, you opened this terrible Pandora's box," Kimmel countered. "You think that got you off to kind of a bad start with the press corps?"
"I don't think it was probably the best start, no," Spicer said, smiling.
And in case you're wondering how he feels about the Mooch - a much-dissected topic since Spicer left when Scaramucci was given the top White House communications job - Spicer insists that he had no personal issues with him and simply thought he wasn't qualified for the position.
Kimmel asked if Spicer celebrated after the now-infamous New Yorker interview that led to Scaramucci's extremely swift departure. Spicer insisted there was no schadenfreude.
"I don't think it's right to relish in someone else's problems," Spicer said. "But again, I think it proved my point that to do this job, is one in which you have to have the proper background -"
Kimmel interrupted: "I imagine you high-fiving everyone." Spicer just laughed.