After a chaotic week in the White House, President Trump held a press conference Thursday to announce his new pick for secretary of labor.
Except that his new nominee, Alexander Acosta, was nowhere near the podium.
A testy back-and-forth ensued with reporters for close to 90 minutes, during which Trump blamed the media for several of the scandals that have rocked his administration.
Why? He told us: “I used to give you a news conference every time I made a speech, which was like every day. That’s how I won. I won with news conferences and probably speeches.”
This time, Trump turned his press conference into an airing of grievances (like the tradition associated with the Festivus holiday, except his words could change the future of the free world).
Here’s a look at Trump’s paraphrased complaints, along with some context:
The White House is not in chaos. That’s “fake news.”
In fact, Trump said, the White House is a “fine-tuned machine.” He not only contends he has done more than other presidents during their first month in office, but also sees his White House chief of staff on the phone all the time putting out political fires around “fake news.”
Context: Forget, of course, everything that happened this week: Michael Flynn was forced to resign, Kellyanne Conway was scolded for Ivanka Trump product promotion, and Andrew Puzder had to withdraw from consideration for the cabinet — to name a few events.
Flynn didn’t do anything wrong (except mislead Pence)
At the presser, Trump said he fired Flynn, his now former national security adviser, for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his late December conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
“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.”
“Mike Flynn is a fine person,” he said later.
Context: To be clear, Trump said he didn’t think that Flynn did anything wrong by contacting the Russians, arguing he was just doing his job on behalf of the incoming administration. But investigators have told reporters that Flynn could have violated the law if he discussed US sanctions against Russia .
Leakers should be ashamed, and so should the press, for writing what they say
Trump was pretty combative about this: The real story, he argued, is not what is being leaked to the press about, for example, his contentious calls with the foreign leaders of Mexico and Australia. According to Trump, the issue is how the media is finding out about these calls.
“How does the press get this information that’s classified? How do they do it? You know why? Because it’s an illegal process, and the press should be ashamed of themselves,” he said. “But more importantly, the people that gave out the information to the press should be ashamed of themselves, really ashamed.”
Context: Leaks happen in Washington, but they are not frequently prosecuted (remember Scooter Libby?). And while Trump appeared to blame some of the leaks on holdovers from the Obama administration, given the nature of some of the reports, Trump might want to look first at some of the people closest to his Oval Office.
Enough with Russia!
Trump vehemently denied a New York Times report that his staff, including his onetime manager Paul Manafort, were in communication with Russia during the 2016 campaign. He and his aides, he insisted, are not cozy with the country.
“I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia,” Trump said.
“I guess one of the reasons I’m here today is to tell you the whole Russian thing, that’s a ruse,” replied Trump to a different question. “And by the way, it would be great if we could get along with Russia, just so you understand that.”
Context: Since Trump hasn’t publicly released his tax returns and detailed his financial holdings, he’ll have to ask the public to take his word for it. And there are many foreign policy specialists who think getting along with Russia might not be the best thing, given the country’s terrible track record on human rights abuses.
And all this ‘fake news’ on Russia makes it harder to make a deal
“Fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia,” said Trump, who seemed to suggest that Vladimir Putin is watching US television and thinking Trump will be under pressure to take a harder line with his country.
Context: It’s unclear what kind of deal Trump would strike with Russia, if any (Nuclear? Economic? A new vodka label?).
Television news is really, really bad (except for “Fox & Friends”)
Trump targeted CNN specifically, saying the cable news network “hates him” and he really doesn’t like its 10 p.m. show’s “anti-Trump panel.”
Oh, and the BBC? “A beauty” (He didn’t seem to mean that in a good way).
If you watch morning news, Trump has one recommendation: “Fox & Friends.”
“They’re very honorable people,” he said.
And in case you had any doubt, he proclaimed, “I’d be a pretty good reporter.”
Context: It’s no secret that Trump watches television news all the time. It’s been reported that this is one of the ways his advisers grab his attention — by going on camera.
Don’t forget that I won the election
He won the election with the largest number of votes in the Electoral College (306) since President Reagan — according to Trump.
Context: As reporters were quick to point out, that’s not the case. Presidents Obama, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton won more Electoral College votes.
I’m not anti-Semitic.
Trump was asked by a reporter from a Jewish publication about anti-Semitism on the rise in the US. Trump’s response?
“I am the least anti-Semitic person you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” Trump said.
Then he told the reporter to be quiet — three times.
Context: Trump did not explicitly denounce the anti-Semitic actions of others. And when he was answering a similar question later, Trump suggested his political opponents were making him look bad.
James Pindell can be reached at email@example.com.