Trump raps 'criminal' leaks, 'dishonest' media, 'bad' judges

Friday, February 17, 2017
President Donald Trump points to a member of the media as he takes questions Thursday during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais ~ Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Confronting a cascade of controversies, President Donald Trump on Thursday angrily denounced the "criminal" leaks that took down his top national security adviser after less than a month and revived questions about his own ties to Russia.

But he offered only a lawyerly denial his campaign aides had been in touch with Russian officials before last fall's election.

"Nobody that I know," he said in the first full-length news conference of his presidency.

Rather than a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, the 77-minute event amounted to an extended airing of grievances, the new president attempting to find his footing after the rockiest launch in recent memory.

Trump slammed a "bad court" of appeals judges for blocking his refugee and immigration executive order and denied his White House was paralyzed by chaos and infighting among top advisers.

"This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine," he boasted.

With his signature hyperbole betrayed by reality, Trump said there never has been a president "who in this short period of time has done what we've done."

He blamed any problems on the outgoing Obama administration -- "I inherited a mess at home and abroad" -- and the news media.

Standing in the stately, chandeliered East Room, Trump lambasted the "out of control" media -- long his favorite foe.

He appeared to delight in jousting with reporters, repeatedly interrupting their questions and singling out stories he disagreed with.

Despite Trump's declarations, his first month in office has been chaotic by any measure.

On Monday, Trump asked for the resignation of national-security adviser Michael Flynn following revelations Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia.

The next day, The New York Times reported multiple Trump advisers were in touch with Russian intelligence advisers during the election campaign.

Trump panned the report as "fake news" and said he had "nothing to do with Russia."

"To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does," he added.

That answer, couched with a caveat similar to one routinely used by witnesses on a trial stand, appeared to give him wiggle room.

The president more clearly defended Flynn's calls with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during the transition period after his November victory.

He said while he did not tell his adviser to discuss sanctions with the envoy, "I would have directed him if he didn't do it."

The president said while Flynn was "just doing his job," he was "not happy" the adviser had misled the vice president.

Trump knew Flynn had given Pence an inaccurate accounting of his discussions with Russia, but the president did not tell his No. 2 for about two weeks, according to a timeline supplied by the White House.

The president is expected to announce Flynn's replacement soon, with Vice Admiral Robert Harward topping his list.

Harward was to meet with Trump aides Thursday afternoon at the White House.

Trump repeatedly tried to steer questions away from his and his advisers' potential ties with Russia, saying attention should be focused on why a steady stream of classified information is making its way into news reports.

He said the leaks are real, but the news is fake, never explaining that.

The president took questions from 17 reporters, far more than at most presidential news conferences. His answers were often unwieldy, almost stream of consciousness.

He said the "greatest thing" he could do was "shoot" a Russian spy ship lingering off the East Coast of the United States.

He asked an African-American reporter whether she could help set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus.

He wrongly stated his Electoral College victory had been the largest of any president since Ronald Reagan, then dismissed the inaccuracy, saying he'd been "given that information."

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