President Trump on Thursday used his bully pulpit to speak "straight to the people," as he called it, attempting to retake control of the national narrative that his White House is in chaos.
In a hastily-planned appearance that lasted nearly 80 minutes, Trump forced a point he has been repeating in early morning tweetstorms for days: All of the controversial news about his administration is nothing more than "fake news" — a term he has come to use for any news article he does not like — and that the mainstream media is out to get him. At one point, he said CNN spews "anger and hatred" at him.
"We have to talk about it to find out what's going on because the press honestly is out of control," he said at the event, which has the feel of one of his rollicking campaign events. "The level of dishonesty is out of control."
Trump's tenure at the White House has been rocked by, among other things, the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, the failed nomination of Andrew Puzder for labor secretary, and reports of his campaign and administration’s ties to Russia. More reports paint his administration as completely unorganized, with warring factions around top aides Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and Jared Kushner.
"And the other thing, chaos, there's zero chaos," Trump insisted. "We are running — this is a fine-tuned machine."
And at some points his statements were unbelievably grandiose, like when he said, almost at the outset, "I don't think there's ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we've done."
When asked directly if anyone on his campaign had contact with Russian officials, Trump said it's "nobody that I know of."
"You can talk all you want about Russia, which is all fake news," he said. "In fact I saw a couple of the people that were supposedly involved in all of this. They didn't know anything about it. They never were in Russia. Never received a call from Russia. It's all fake news. All fake news."
At one point in his rambling introduction, Trump said something patently false — that he got the most electoral college votes since Ronald Reagan — and a reporter called him out on it. He said that that he was given incorrect figures and moved on.
He was also asked if he was concerned about undermining the public's faith in the First Amendment and freedom of the press by calling stories he doesn't like "fake news," Trump said he wanted to see an "honest press."
"I want to see an honest press. I started off today by saying the press — the public doesn't believe you people anymore. Maybe I had something to do with that. I don't know. But they don't believe you," he said, referring to the media. "If you were straight and really told it like it is... I would be your biggest fan in the world, including bad stories about me. But as you go, as an example, you're CNN, it's story after story after story is bad."
For more than an hour, Trump took question after question from reporters, seeming very much in his element and mostly managing to make the news conference about his relationship with the press — and not about biggest news of the moment, which are the Russia ties. At times he was combative but insisted he was having a good time.
"Tomorrow they'll say, 'Trump rants and raves at the press,'" he said. "I'm just telling you. You're dishonest people. But I'm not ranting and raving. I love this. I'm having a good time doing it."
On Friday morning, Trump posted a tweet thanking people for their "kind words" about the new conference, and cited Rush Limbaugh as saying it was "one of the greatest ever."
Below are some of the more interesting questions and answers. There's a full transcript here.
Question: “Did you fire Mike Flynn?”
Mike Flynn is a fine person. And I asked for his resignation. He respectfully gave it. He is a man who — there was a certain amount of information given to Vice President Pence, who is with us today. And I was not happy with the way that information was given. He didn't have to do that because what he did wasn't wrong, what he did in terms of the information he saw. What was wrong was the way that other people including yourselves inside this room were given that information because that was classified information that was given illegally. That's the real problem.
And you can talk all you want about Russia, which is all a fake news, fabricated deal to try to make up for the loss of the Democrats. And the press plays right into it. In fact, I saw a couple of the people that were supposedly involved with all of this. They didn't know anything about it. Never were in Russia. Never received a call from Russia. It's all fake news. All fake news.
“Mr. President, very simply you said today that you had the biggest electoral margin since Ron Reagan. In fact, President Obama had 365, George Bush 426 when he won. So why should Americans trust — my question is, why should Americans trust you when the information you provide is wrong?”
I was given that information. Actually I've seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory.
"Do you agree with that?” he asked the reporter, who replied, “You’re the president.”
Question: “President Trump — clarification here. During your campaign, did anyone from your team communicate with members of the Russian government or Russian intelligence? If so, what was the nature of those conversations?”
And the people mentioned in the story, I notice they were on television today saying they never even spoke to Russia. They weren't even a part, really -- I mean, they were such a minor part. They -- I hadn't spoken to them.
I think the one person -- I don't think I've ever spoken to him. I don't think I've ever met him. And he actually said he was a very low-level member of I think a committee for a short period of time. I don't think I ever met him. Now, it's possible that I walked into a room and he was sitting there, but I don't think I ever met him. I didn't talk to him ever. And he thought it was a joke.
The other person said he never spoke to Russia; never received a call. Look at his phone records, et cetera, et cetera. And the other person, people knew that he represented various countries, but I don't think he represented Russia, but knew that he represented various countries. That's what he does. I mean, people know that.
That's Mr. Manafort, who's — by the way, who's by the way a respected man. He's a respected man. But I think he represented the Ukraine or Ukraine government or somebody, but everybody — people knew that. Everybody knew that.
So, these people — and he said that he has absolutely nothing to do and never has with Russia. And he said that very forcefully. I saw his statement. He said it very forcefully. Most of the papers don't print it because that's not good for their stories.So the three people that they talked about all totally deny it.
Speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don't have any deals in Russia. President Putin called me up very nicely to congratulate me on the win of the election. He then called me up extremely nicely to congratulate me on the inauguration, which was terrific.
Russia is fake news. Russia — this is fake news put out by the media.
Question: “I want to get you to clarify this very important point. Can you say definitively that nobody on your campaign had any contacts with the Russians during the campaign? And on the leaks, is it fake news or are these real leaks?”
Well the leaks are real. The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.
I don't mind bad stories. I can handle a bad story better than anybody. As long as it's true. And you know, over the course of time I will make mistakes and you will write badly. I'm OK with that. But I'm not OK when it is fake. I watched CNN. It's so much anger and hatred, and just — the hatred, I don't watch it anymore.
Question: "On the travel ban, would you accept that was a good example of the smooth running of government? Were there any mistakes in that?"
Let me tell you about the travel ban. We had a very smooth roll-out of the travel ban but we had a bad court. We got a bad decision. We had a court that’s been overturned, again, I may be wrong, but I think 80% of the time. A lot.Question:
We had a bad decision. We’re going to keep with that decision. We’re going to put in a new executive order next week sometime. But we had a bad decision. That's the only thing that was wrong with the travel ban.
"I was just hoping that we could get a yes or no answer on one of these questions involving Russia. Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?"
No. Nobody that I know of.
Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn’t. I just have nobody to speak to.
I spoke to Putin twice. He called me on the election. I told you this. And he called me on the inauguration, a few days ago.
We had a very good talk, especially the second one, lasted for a pretty long period of time. I’m sure you probably get it because it was classified. So I’m sure everybody in this room perhaps has it. But we had a very, very good talk.
I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does.
Question: "Well, when you say the inner cities, are you going — are you going to include the CBC, Mr. President, in your conversations with your — your urban agenda, your inner city agenda, as well as —"
Trump: "Am I going to include who?"
Reporter: "Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional —"
Trump: "Well, I would. I tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting?"
Trump: "Do you want to set up the meeting?"
Reporter: "No — no — no. I’m not —"
Trump: "Are they friends of yours?"
Reporter: "I’m just a reporter."
Trump: "Well, then(ph) set up the meeting."
Paraphrased Question: Trump was asked about anti-Semitic and racist incidents that have occurred after the election and in his name — mainly by vandalism. In his response, Trump sought to blame people who were working against him:
Some of it written by our opponents. You do know that. Do you understand that? You don't think anybody would do a thing like that. Some of the signs you'll see are not put up by the people that love or like Donald Trump, they're put up by the other side and you think it's like playing it straight? OK.
No. But you have some of those signs and some of that anger is caused by the other side. They'll do signs and they'll do drawings that are inappropriate. It won't be my people. It will be the people on the other side to anger people like you.
I am the least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person.