In a surprise press conference — his first as president — President Donald Trump denied Russia had influence over his campaign and lashed out at what he said was the “fake news” media.
The focus of the press conference in the East Room of the White House was thought to be the announcement of Alexander Acosta’s nomination for secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor.
“To denounce that [shows] presumptive negativity … and it proves our point about not getting a fair shake.”
But Trump was ready for a rumble with the media, to set the record straight, and to give his take on his four-week record as the nation’s 45th president.
It was a surprise gamble. Trump knew he was going to take questions about the resignation of Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn as national security adviser. He knew he was going to being asked about allegations of Russian influence over his campaign. And he knew some of the other questions might be harsh (some were).
Here are some of his answers:
On Russian Influence Over His Campaign
“So the three people that they talked about all totally deny it. And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia … Russia is fake news. Russia, this is fake news put out by the media.”
On Why He Dismissed 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 in this room, were given that information, because that was classified information that was given illegally. That’s the real problem.”
On Why He Calls it ‘Fake News’
“Look, I want to see an honest press. When I started off today by saying that it’s so important to the public to get an honest press. The press — the public doesn’t believe you people anymore. Now, maybe I had something to do with that. I don’t know. But they don’t believe you.”
On CNN and Jim Acosta Not Being Related to Alexander Acosta
“I’m changing it from fake news, though. Very fake news … And you’re not related to our new … I looked — you know, I looked at that name. I said, wait a minute, is there any relation there? Alex Acosta. OK. Now I checked it — I said — they said, ‘No, sir.’ I said, ‘Do me a favor, go back and check the family tree.'”
Trump reportedly told his staff in the morning that he wanted a press conference that day. Trump told the press at 11 a.m. By 12:30 p.m., dozens of reporters were waiting inside the White House.
The surprise announcement was perhaps not too much of a surprise. Reporters, especially Jim Acosta of CNN, had been accusing the president of taking softball questions for days. Trump had only held four press conferences before Thursday, but they were all joint press conferences with heads of state.
At those four press conferences, seven of the eight questions came from right-leaning media outlets that Trump called on.
Then CNN’s Jim Acosta threw a fit on Wednesday when he didn’t get a question, telling Wolf Blitzer that “the fix is in.”
Trump may have taken that as a challenge. On Thursday, Trump often chose reporters he did not know or recognize. Only one question, about first lady Melania Trump, could be described as soft. Another question, from Jake Turx of the Jewish periodical Ami Magazine, drew Trump’s ire.
“What we are concerned about, and what we haven’t really heard being addressed, is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it,” asked Turx.
“He said he was going to ask a very simple, easy question,” Trump said, a bit irritated. “And it’s not. Not a simple question, not a fair question. OK, sit down, I understand the rest of your question.”
Trump took only two questions from right-of-center outlets.
Of course, it didn’t matter too much to many pundits that Trump finally gave a press conference. “77 Minute Meltdown,” the headline for The Huffington Post read by late Thursday afternoon.
“Trump’s Press Conference Nearly Defies Description: Funnier than ‘The Apprentice,’ scarier than ‘The Walking Dead,'” the headline for Newsweek read.
Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser to the president, told LifeZette after the press conference that Trump stood and took 17 questions over 77 minutes, being as transparent as he could be.
“To denounce that [shows] presumptive negativity,” said Conway. “And it proves our point about not getting a fair shake.”
Conway said the American public will ignore the nitpicking and the cherry-picking of Trump quotes, and likely judge the whole event for themselves. It’s an empowerment involving media choice that both Trump and the public have now.
“Americans will go and watch that press conference themselves,” said Conway. “Things are different now.”