President Donald Trump launched an extraordinary denunciation Thursday of his critics, complaining he inherited a “mess” and slamming stories that his campaign was constantly in contact with Russia as “fake news.”
Trump held court during a news conference that lasted an hour and fifteen minutes, carving out a stunning moment in modern American political history. He displayed a sense of anger and grievance rarely vented by a President in public — let alone one who has been in office for just four weeks.
“I have never seen more dishonest media, frankly than the political media,” Trump said, later slamming leaks to the press from the intelligence community — some of which led to the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“The leaks are real. The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake,” Trump said.
While it was a marked contrast with the normal dynamics of a presidential news conference, the East Room show was vintage Trump. He touted his own poll numbers, victory over Hillary Clinton and discussed cable TV ratings and panel discussions.
“I’m here again to take my message straight to the people. As you know, our administration inherited many problems across government and across the economy. To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess.”
That was the kind of message — directed at large numbers of voters disgruntled with the performance of Washington’s political establishment and delivered in a plainspoken, unvarnished manner — that helped Trump win the presidency against all odds.
But his manner is also likely to offend or alarm other voters and may do little to alleviate skepticism towards Trump among political elites in Washington. Trump in fact predicted how his animated and unorthodox news conference will be interpreted in the press.
“Tomorrow, they will say: ‘Donald Trump rants and raves at the press,'” Trump said. “I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But — but I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time doing it.”
The general impression was of a president who is deeply frustrated at the way his new White House is being portrayed and who had decided to take matters into his own hands with a dramatic intervention.
The news conference was not scheduled until Thursday morning, but aides said Trump was itching to get out and defend himself.
A senior administration official told CNN’s Jeremy Diamond that Trump walked into the Oval Office this morning and told his top aides: “Let’s do a press conference today.”
The news conference was “the President’s idea, 100%” the official said.
“I’m here today to update the American people on the incredible progress that has been made in the last four weeks since my inauguration,” Trump said, after quickly announcing his new pick for labor secretary, Alexander Acosta.
“We have made incredible progress. I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done,” Trump said.
And saying he resented picking up newspapers and turning on the television to hear reports that his White House was in chaos, Trump said, “This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.”
Trump’s appearance betrayed apparent deep frustration not just with the media coverage of his White House and a desire to talk directly to the American people but also possibly dismay with aides charged with defending him.
“I don’t mind a bad story if it’s true,” Trump said, but complained much of what was reported about his administration was unfair.
The President lashed out, for instance, at coverage of his temporary travel ban on nationals of seven mostly Muslim nations that caused a weekend of chaos at the nation’s airports before being suspended by a federal court.
“We had a very smooth roll out of the travel ban. But we had a bad court,” Trump said. “We had a bad decision, that is the only thing that is wrong with the travel ban.”
But the President also said a new executive order would be tailored to the court’s ruling to ensure that it could legally go into force.
Trump also accused holdovers from the Obama administration of leaking out information about his alleged contacts with Moscow to hammer his administration.
Trump was repeatedly pressed on whether his campaign staff had been in contact with Russia, as a widening drama over his alleged connections with Moscow dominates news coverage.
“Nobody that I know of. How many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years,” Trump said.
“I own nothing in Russia, I have no loans in Russia, I don’t have any deals in Russia,” Trump said. “Russia is fake news.”