US President Donald Trump aired his grievances against the news media, the intelligence community and his detractors generally in a sprawling, stream-of-consciousness news conference.
“To be honest, I inherited a mess,” Trump said on Thursday, in a news conference that lasted more than an hour and was at times rambling, combative and pointed, The Washington Post reported.
“It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess. Jobs are pouring out of the country.”
Yet moments later, the president seemed to acknowledge the widespread reports of turbulence and upheaval emanating out of his West Wing, only to claim that his White House – which so far has been marred by staff infighting, a controversial travel ban, false statements and myriad leaks – was operating seamlessly.
“I turn on the TV, open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos – chaos,” he 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.”
Asked about recent reports that Mike Flynn, his former national security adviser who resigned Monday evening, had improperly discussed Russian sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the US before Trump was sworn in, the president defended Flynn as a “fine person”, saying he had done nothing wrong in engaging the Russian envoy.
But, Trump said, Flynn had erred by misleading government officials, including Vice President Pence, about his conversations, which is why the president ultimately demanded his resignation.
“He didn’t tell the vice president of the US the facts,” Trump said. “And then he didn’t remember. And that just wasn’t acceptable to me.”
Trump made clear he had no problem with Flynn discussing the sanctions imposed on Moscow by the Obama administration with the Russian ambassador even if he was not directly told to do so by Trump, saying it was Flynn’s job to reach out to foreign officials.
“No, I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn’t do it,” he said.
Trump was asked several times about whether his campaign had contact with Russia and grew testy as reporters pushed him for a yes-or-no answer.
He said he certainly hadn’t and that he was not aware of such contacts during the campaign.
“I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia,” Trump said. “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. But so did many other leaders, almost all other leaders from almost all of the countries. So that’s the extent.”
Trump also used the questions to press his case that the United States would be well-served by a better relationship with Russia and to mock his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, for her efforts to “reset” the relationship between the two countries while she was secretary of state.
Trump derisively referred to that “stupid plastic button that made us all look like jerks,” a reference to the red “reset” button that Clinton presented to the Russian foreign minister early in the Obama administration.