WASHINGTON — As President Trump’s aides ran down the list of possible backdrops for his latest Fox News event, they eventually landed on their favorite: the Lincoln Memorial, an iconic tribute to an American life, and one of Mr. Trump’s preferred places to add a prime-time touch of drama to his presidency.
There was just one catch: While Mr. Trump and many other presidents have hosted inauguration concerts and gatherings on the memorial’s steps, any event meant to draw an audience inside the interior near Daniel Chester French’s sculpture of a seated Lincoln is prohibited. The area beginning with the marble staircase where the columns start constitutes a boundary protected by federal law.
So on Sunday, when the president sat down with two Fox News anchors at Lincoln’s marbled feet during a coronavirus-focused virtual “town hall,” it was because a directive issued by David Bernhardt, the secretary of the interior, had allowed them to do so.
Mr. Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist whose Senate nomination was contested by Democrats who pointed to multiple accusations of conflicts of interest and ethical violations, ordered the memorial temporarily closed for the event, citing the coronavirus.