US president Donald Trump on Thursday denied any one in his campaign had been in touch with Russian intelligence, slammed intelligence leaks as criminal, rubbished reports of turmoil in his White House and accused news media of reporting “fake news”. And, he repeatedly claimed he had “inherited a mess”.
Addressing his first solo news conference after assuming office, Trump gave vent to his frustration with unfair and hateful media coverage, anger with Democrats for delay in confirming his cabinet nominations and with courts for striking down his travel ban order. He was angry, but insisted he was not raving or ranting and claimed he was enjoying himself.
The news briefing came just days after he fired his National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for losing his trust over calls to the Russian ambassador to the US, and amid calls for investigations into his campaign aides’ reported links to Russian intelligence, pressed by lawmakers from both parties.
There have been reports also of “dysfunction” in the White House with apparently no one seemingly in charge with competing power centers trying to pull each other down and of a wary intelligence community not willing to share sensitive information with him because of his seemingly warm embrace of Russia.
“I turn on the TV, open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos — chaos,” Trump said. “Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can’t get my Cabinet approved.” He listed out shortly steps take by him to cut regulation, pull the US out of Trans-Pacific Partnership and others and previewed those in the pipeline.
“There has never been a presidency that’s done so much in such a short period of time,” he said, adding, “And we have not even started the big work yet.”
On Thursday, however, all he wanted to do was fight back anyway he could in a 75-minute news briefing. The very first question he took set the tone. The reporter questioned his credibility if he continued to mislead the country, and the world, on the scale of his victory — he has claimed his electoral college victory margin is the biggest since Ronald Reagan’s. Presidents George HW Bush and Barack Obama did much better, the report pointed out. Trump just shrugged: that’s what he was told.
And, incredibly, he said that while the leaks he was angry about, and which he had asked to be investigated by the justice department, were real, the news based on them was “fake news”. And he stuck by it to repeated questions.
The briefing was initially called to announce Trump’s new nominee as labour secretary — it’s Alexander Acosta, a Hispanic lawyer from Florida — but he used it to address all major issues that have been in the headlines lately, and have been agitating him enough to tweet about them, multiple times.
Chiefly, Russia, and media coverage of him, his staff and his administration.
He flatly denied anyone he knew in his campaign had been in touch with Russian intelligence as has been reported, and re-asserted he himself had had no dealings in Russia, and he doesn’t own assets there.
Russia is a “ruse”, he said many times, insisting he would be tougher with Moscow than his Democratic rival for the presidency Hillary Clinton, who was mentioned many times, more than necessary, probably.
While claiming he was not raving or ranting, which he is how the news briefing will be reported, he did indeed rave and rant against media, repeatedly using the phrase “fake news”, and named outlets he believe have been unfair to him.
Critics on the left, described him as looking and behaving “unhinged”, frustrated and angry.
But conservatives were happy, as an editor of right-wing publication told HT, “I’m happy he used the conference to try and list off what he’s done and what’s going on, as opposed to simply flipping out over the insane and, frankly, scary leaks from the Deep State. That was a good sign, and he covered it all.”