Donald Trump denies links to Russia and rages against media in rambling press conference

US President's performance in the East Room of the White House is reminiscent of his speeches given on the campaign trail

Feliks Garcia
New York
Thursday 16 February 2017 20:20
Donald Trump denies 'ranting and raving', attacking media, Clinton, Democrats

Donald Trump mounted a sustained attack on the media during a fiery and at times chaotic news conference on Thursday afternoon, aggressively defending the actions of his administration and branding the gathered media "dishonest" purveyors of "very fake news".

The US President, reeling from a week of unflattering coverage of a tumultuous Oval Office, accused the press of deliberately misleading the public about his administration's ties to Russia.

In a speech reminiscent of his election campaign rhetoric, the firebrand Republican insisted the leaks coming from his administration were "real", but the news written about them is "fake".

"Well the leaks are real. You’re the one that wrote about them and reported them, I mean the leaks are real," he said. "You know what they said, you saw it and the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake."

The Trump administration is still recovering from the forced resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn after it was revealed he attempted to cover up conversations he had with the Russian ambassador. But responding to questions about his ties to the Kremlin, Mr Trump insisted that he has no ties to the country.

"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," Mr Trump said.

"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," he added, referring to the 28 January phone call.

"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."

He explained that, when informed about Mr Flynn's contact with the Russian envoy, he was "doing his job". However, he said he asked Mr Flynn to resign because he "didn't tell our Vice President properly" and lied about remembering the content of the call.

Donald Trump is fact-checked over claim he won the biggest electoral college victory since Reagan

"So, either way, it wasn't very satisfactory to me," he said, later adding: "I didn't direct him [to call the diplomat], but I would have directed him because that was his job."

The President also responded to subsequent reports from the New York Times and CNN indicating that Trump campaign staff had constant contact with Russian intelligence officials.

He acknowledged that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort had ties to former Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovich, who was notably pro-Russian.

"Now, Manafort has totally denied it. He denied it. Now people knew that he was a consultant over in that part of the world for a while, but not for Russia. I think he represented Ukraine or people having to do with Ukraine, or people that — whoever. But people knew that. Everybody knew that," Mr Trump said.

Donald Trump says 'the leaks are real, the news is fake' in response to Michael Flynn resignation

The President denied any wrongdoing regarding Russia and said that the press was trying to distract from “classified information that was given illegally” to reporters.

Mr Trump spoke for more than an hour, airing his grievances about the media, in a press conference originally intended to formally announce his new Labour Secretary nominee, Alexander Acosta. Instead, it descended into a disjointed tirade against big name broadcasters from CNN to the BBC, as well as his former rival, Hillary Clinton.

But the President, who has become infamous for his thin-skinned, knee-jerk reactions to negative press coverage, insisted that he could handle a bad story "better than anybody".

"I know when I should get good [coverage] and get bad, and sometimes I’ll say, 'Wow, that’s going to be a great story', and I get killed.

"I know what is good and bad, I’d be a pretty good reporter.”

He added: "There is nobody I have more respect for, well maybe a little bit, than reporters, good reporters. It’s very important to me, especially in this position, it’s very important.

"I don’t mind bad stories, I can handle a bad story better than anybody, as long as it’s true."

The attack on the press channelled Mr Trump's campaign persona, which he has maintained since taking office. He also touted his electoral college victory – incorrectly saying that it was the largest victory since Ronald Reagan's 489 votes in 1980. When called on the lie, Mr Trump simply said he was reciting information he was given.

Indeed, Mr Trump won the election with 306 electoral votes, to Hillary Clinton's 232, but it was by no means an historic victory, numerically speaking. Even George HW Bush won with 426 electoral votes in 1988.