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Donald Trump denies White House in chaos at extraordinary press conference

‘The leaks are real, the news is fake’: key quotes from Trump’s press conference

Donald Trump dismissed reports of chaos and conspiracy in his administration and claimed his team is running like “a fine-tuned machine” during an extraordinary press conference at which he tried to reset his beleaguered presidency.

In a boisterous and often bizarre session, he fired off numerous broadsides at the media as he skipped from topic to topic in what critics saw as an attempt to deflect attention from his alleged ties to Russia.

“I turn on the TV, open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos, chaos,” Trump scolded reporters. “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.”

But soon afterwards that same “fine-tuned” administration was plunged into further disarray. On Thursday night it was confirmed that Trump’s preferred replacement for his disgraced national security adviser has turned the job down.

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The president’s first solo media briefing since taking office was held ostensibly to announce Alexander Acosta as his new pick for labour secretary after his first choice, Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration.

But the event at the White House rapidly turned into a sprawling, freewheeling and pugnacious defence of his first four weeks as president and a bitter denunciation of the press.

In a remarkable press conference – spanning 77 minutes in which he took questions from 17 reporters – Trump:

  • Denied any connections to Russia or any knowledge of his election campaign team having contacts with Moscow, dismissing stories as a “ruse”
  • Slammed the “dishonest” media for putting out what he called fake news and doing a “disservice” to the American people
  • Claimed he has achieved more in his first four weeks in office than any previous US president, adding: “We’re just getting started”
  • Denied that his ban on travellers from Muslim-majority countries had been poorly executed, insisting: “We had a bad court”
  • Argued that he “inherited a mess”, both domestically and abroad
  • Was told he was wrong to claim he had the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan. He replied: “I was given that information”
  • Asked black journalist April Ryan if she would set up a meeting for him with the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss his inner-city agenda: “Are they friends of yours?”

He argued that there has been “incredible progress” over the past four weeks: “I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we have done.”

The measures taken so far include withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, eliminating regulations that “undermine manufacturing”, plans to smash international drugs cartels and strengthening the country’s borders. Trump contrasted himself with past politicians who made promises only to break them.

In a swipe at Barack Obama’s administration, Trump said: “To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess.

“Jobs are pouring out of the country – you see what’s going on with all of the companies leaving our country, going to Mexico and other places, low pay, low wages, mass instability overseas, no matter where you look. The Middle East is a disaster. North Korea – we’ll take care of it folks; we’re going to take care of it all. I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess.”

But as so often during the election campaign, it was the media that became his primary punchbag. He claimed it is serving not the people but special interests profiting from a broken system. “The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice. We have to talk to find out what’s going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.”

Trump claimed he was talking about an entrenched “power structure” that needed attention. “We’re not going to let it happen because I’m here again to take my message straight to the people.”

He singled out broadcasters and individual reporters for particular criticism, insisting that they had lost the trust of the public. “I just see many, many untruthful things. It’s about tone. The tone is such hatred. I’m really not a bad person. I do get good ratings, you have to admit that.”

The coverage of the press conference itself would be skewed, he added. “I love this. I’m having a good time doing it. Tomorrow, the headlines are going to be, ‘Donald Trump rants and raves.’ I’m not ranting and raving.”

Allegations over Trump’s connections with Russia hovered over the entire news conference. Apparently trying to square a circle, Trump claimed: “The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.”

He argued: “You know, you can talk all you want about Russia, which was all fake news, fabricated deal, to try and make up for the loss of the Democrats and the press plays right into it.”

The president was asked repeatedly about whether his advisers had contact with Russia during the US presidential election campaign. He eventually conceded: “Nobody that I know of. How many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse.”

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Trump even claimed that media reports about his administration’s relationship with Russia may make it difficult for him to strike a deal with Vladimir Putin. “Putin probably assumes that he can’t make a deal with me any more because politically it would be unpopular for a politician to make a deal.”

He mocked former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, his defeated election opponent, for an attempt to “reset” relations with Russia, which included a mocked-up plastic button that he said “made us all look like a bunch of jerks”. And he challenged the room, asking whether anyone seriously thought Clinton would be tougher on Russia than him.

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Donald Trump attacks press and defends his administration – video

The Trump administration was thrown into turmoil by Monday’s resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn over his secret discussion of US sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak. On Thursday night, Robert Harward, who Trump wanted to replace Flynn, was confirmed to have refused the offer.

The president confirmed he asked Flynn to resign but insisted he was a “fine person” who did nothing wrong by speaking to Russia’s ambassador about sanctions.

“Mike was doing his job,” he said. “He was calling countries and his counterparts. So, it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn’t doing it. I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him because that’s his job.”

Instead Flynn’s mistake was to mislead officials including the vice-president, Mike Pence. “He didn’t tell the vice-president of the United States the facts,” Trump said. “And then he didn’t remember. And that just wasn’t acceptable to me.”

He added: “I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence: very simple ... I don’t think he did anything wrong. If anything, he did something right.”

The billionaire property tycoon insisted the “real story” was that the intelligence community leaking information about Flynn’s conversations and details of the investigation into his campaign advisers.

“I’ve actually called the justice department to look into the leaks,” he said. “Those are criminal leaks.”

Trump also railed against embarrassing leaks of his phone calls with world leaders including Australia and Mexico, suggesting that people within the White House could potentially put the US at risk by leaking confidential future conversations about how to handle North Korea.

Trump has been accused of stoking division and hiring a white nationalist, Steve Bannon, as his chief strategist. He angrily turned on a reporter who asked him if his administration has incited acts of antisemitism. “Sit down!” he barked. “Number one, I am the least antisemitic person you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person.”

When the journalist tried to interject, Trump shouted over him: “Quiet, quiet, quiet. See, he lied that he was going to get up and ask a straight, simple question, so, you know, welcome to the world of the media.”

Trump was also caught in a lie about his electoral college victory being the biggest since Ronald Reagan but brushed it off. Zigzagging through various topics, he again insisted: “There’s zero chaos. This is a fine-tuned machine.”

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But his grandstanding is unlikely to go down well on Capitol Hill. On Thursday, Chuck Schumer, leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, demanded investigations by both Congress and the justice department into ties between the Trump administration and Russia.

“We do not know all of the facts, and in the coming days and weeks, more information may well surface about these disturbing revelations,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “But we already know that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

“I have been in Congress for a long time, and I’ve never, ever seen anything like this. The institutions of government are being tested in a way they have not been tested in some time ... I believe the stakes to be very high. This is not a drill. Nothing less than our system of checks and balances, the rule of law, and our national security is at stake.”

Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelosi is pushing the interim director of national intelligence for a “comprehensive” briefing over the next two weeks. Pelosi will seek transcripts of the intercepted conversations Flynn had with Kislyak.

Trump’s original pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, abruptly withdrew from consideration on Wednesday.

Trump said Acosta, who did not appear with the president, “has had a tremendous career”. He noted that unlike Puzder, Acosta had been confirmed by the Senate three times and “did very, very well”.

If confirmed anew by the Senate, Acosta would become the first Hispanic member of Trump’s cabinet. He is now dean of the Florida International University law school.

Acosta has served on the National Labor Relations Board and as a federal prosecutor in Florida. He was named assistant attorney general for civil rights by George W Bush.

Additional reporting by Spencer Ackerman in New York and Ben Jacobs in Washington


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About Article Author

Stanley Ward
Stanley Ward

He is a leading authority on business trends including ‘big data’, self-employment and the social media revolution. He’s the author of the award-winning book, Marketing Shortcuts for the Self-Employed (2011, Wiley) and a regular speaker for Bloomberg TV. He has spoken about global mega trends, big data and the social media revolution at conferences and business events around the world .

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