President Donald Trump stood in front of a fake presidential seal doctored to feature golf clubs and resemble Russia’s coat of arms while taking the stage at a conference for young Republicans on Tuesday.
Turning Point USA, the nation’s largest group of college Republicans, hosted the president at its summit in Washington and appears to have accidentally projected the fake seal onto the stage where Trump spoke.
“It was a last-minute A/V mistake — and I can’t figure out where the breakdown was — but it was a last minute throw-up, and that’s all it was,” a spokesman for TPUSA told The Washington Post. “I can’t figure out who did it yet. ... I don’t know where they got the image from.”
The spokesman told the Post that an audiovisual team made up of TPUSA members and hotel staff was responsible for the projections behind Trump during the summit.
CNN reported Thursday that TPUSA fired one of its audiovisual team members over the incident. A TPUSA source told the outlet that the aide had done a Google search for the official presidential seal to project at the summit but mistakenly used an image of the doctored seal that came up in the search.
The true presidential seal was on the lectern where Trump delivered a roughly 80-minute speech that stoked racial divisions and included lies about a group of Democratic congresswomen of color known as “the Squad.” It was also projected behind him as he was introduced onstage, along with the words “President Donald J. Trump.”
But the image projected on the screen to Trump’s right featured the doctored version of the seal. It resembled the official seal, but the American bald eagle in the center of it had two heads ― like Russia’s coat of arms ― instead of the usual one.
Former special counsel Robert Mueller testified on Capitol Hill a day after the TPUSA summit about his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, whether Trump’s campaign had attempted to coordinate with the Kremlin, and if the president had obstructed justice.
On the official seal, the banner above the eagle says “E pluribus unum,” a Latin phrase meaning “out of many, one.” But the banner on the fake seal says “45 es un títere,” which translates in Spanish to “45 is a puppet.”
The eagle’s left talons in the doctored seal also appear to clutch a set of golf clubs instead of the 13 arrows it holds in the official version.
The president famously loves to golf, having spent twice as many days on the links as of May than President Barack Obama did at the same point in his first term. Trump’s golf outings have cost taxpayers over $100 million so far.
As one HuffPost reader pointed out, the eagle’s right talons are clasping cash, instead of the usual olive branch in the official seal.
“We never saw the seal in question before it appeared in the video,” White House spokesman Judd Deere told HuffPost in a statement. “For anything further, you would need to contact Turning Point ― it was their event.”
TPUSA did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Richard Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, told the Post that the incident was “careless” and blamed Trump White House staffers for not having more involvement in the event.
“You should have control over what the private group is doing, what they’re putting on the screen and anything else,” Painter said. “To let someone project something on the screen that isn’t controlled by the White House is pretty stupid.”
This story has been updated to include additional details about the fake seal, and to note that TPUSA has fired the person it said is responsible.