In a long, rambling press conference early Thursday afternoon, President Trump dismissed a number of the controversies swirling around his presidency as “fake news,” insisted that his White House is running like a “finely-tuned machine,” and issued a tepid denial that any of his campaign aides were in contact with the Russian government prior to his election.
The overriding theme of the 75-minute press conference was Trump’s various grievances with the media, but along the way he did make some news. He began by announcing that attorney Alexander Acosta, the dean of Florida International University Law School and a former member of the National Labor Relations Board, would be his replacement nominee for secretary of labor.
He also said that next week his administration will release a new executive action on border security meant to accomplish some of the things that a previous order, currently stalled in litigation, was unable to do.
However, much of the press conference was consumed not by policy discussion, but by Trump’s defense of his presidential campaign and of his administration’s actions in the first weeks of his term.
“I turn on the TV, open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite,” he said at one point. “This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can’t get my cabinet approved.”
Trump was pressed by three different reporters on whether or not anyone working for his campaign had contacts with Russian intelligence agents or other Russian officials. Multiple sources in the Intelligence Community have told news organizations that several of Trump’s associates had multiple contacts with Russia. After twice refusing to give a direct answer, he finally said, “Nobody that I know of.” He then wondered out loud, “How many times do I have to answer this question?”
Here are a few more remarkable moments from the event:
* On Obamacare: Trump seemed to suggest that members of Congress facing protests over the planned repeal of the Affordable Care Act represent only their Republican constituents. “We’ve begun preparing to repeal and replace Obamacare. Obamacare is a disaster, folks. It’s disaster. I know you can say, oh, Obamacare. I mean, they fill up our alleys with people that you wonder how they get there, but they are not the Republican people that our representatives are representing.”
* On the Electoral College: He repeated his false claim that his Electoral College margin in the November election was the largest since Ronald Reagan. When it was pointed out that what he had said was untrue, he said, “Well, I don’t know, I was given that information. I was given — I actually, I’ve seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory, do you agree with that?”
* On intelligence leaks: Trump has insisted that leaks about his campaign’s contact with the Russians are serious breaches of security, but that the news stories revealing the leaks are fake. Asked to clarify, he said, “You know what they said, you saw it and the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.”
* On Russia: Asked about recent Russian provocations, including the presence of a surveillance ship off the coast of Delaware, the apparent violation of a nuclear missile treaty and the buzzing of American ships by Russian warplanes, he blamed it all on the media. “I want to just tell you, the false reporting by the media, by you people, the false, horrible, fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia.”
His rationale, apparently, is that Russian President Vladimir Putin is becoming increasingly aggressive because “He’s sitting behind his desk and he’s saying, you know, I see what’s going on in the United States, I follow it closely. It’s going to be impossible for President Trump to ever get along with Russia because of all the pressure he’s got with this fake story.”
* On anti-Semitism: Given two opportunities to specifically condemn the rise in anti-Semitic threats in the United States since his election, he avoided doing so both times. He suggested that much of it is attributable to his political opponents trying to make him look bad. At one point he berated a reporter for insinuating that he himself is an anti-Semite, despite the fact that the man prefaced his question by explicitly saying that he was suggesting no such thing.
* On meeting the Congressional Black Caucus: When an African American reporter asked Trump if he would be working with the Congressional Black Caucus on his plan to revitalize troubled inner cities, Trump asked, “Are they friends of yours?” She replied, “I'm just a reporter.” Trump said, “Well, set up the meeting.”