President Trump denounced news reports about a White House in chaos during a lengthy press conference on Thursday that touched on Russia, the administration's agenda and his tempestuous relationship with the media.
Trump repeatedly insisted that his administration is off to a smooth and effective start while airing his grievances against the intelligence community, the political press and Senate Democrats, whom he slammed for blocking his Cabinet picks.
“I turn on the TV, open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine,” he said.
This week has been a particularly tough one for the Trump White House, which saw national security adviser Michael Flynn resign under pressure and Labor Secretary nominee Andy Puzder withdraw his controversial nomination because of Republican objections.
Critical news stories suggesting that Trump’s legislative agenda to repeal and replace ObamaCare and reform the tax code are stuck in a congressional quagmire have added to the sense of a presidency in trouble.
Congressional investigators are also pledging to forge ahead with a probe into the Trump team’s ties to Russia after Flynn’s ousting, which was related to talks he had with Russia about sanctions during the transition.
Trump did not definitively rule out the possibility his campaign advisers had contact with Russian operatives, despite being pressed three separate times. But he insisted he has no entanglements with Moscow.
“I had nothing to do with it. I have nothing to do with Russia. I told you, I have no deals there, I have no anything,” he said.
When pressed about his aides’ communications, which were the subject of New York Times and CNN reports this week, Trump responded “nobody that I know.”
He said former campaign adviser Paul Manafort is a “respected man” who denied knowingly speaking with Russian intelligence officials.
Trump sought to deflect attention from allegations of improper contact with Russia to the leaks that exposed them, an argument he’s frequently made in recent days.
He said he instructed the Justice Department to investigate the leaks detailing internal White House tumult, including several contentious phone calls with U.S. allies.
He lambasted the “out of control” news media for reporting on the leaks. But when asked if they were “real,” Trump responded, “the leaks are absolutely real, the news is fake.”
Trump insisted he wasn’t creating a double standard when asked about his praise of WikiLeaks during the campaign, saying the website wasn’t disclosing classified information about Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump in campaign mode at NRA convention Vicente Fox to Trump: ‘Being president ain’t easy’ When political opportunity knocked, Jason Chaffetz never failed to cash in MORE.
The president appeared angry and irritated at times, though he professed to be enjoying the give and take with reporters during his more than hour-long appearance that harkened back to the early days of his campaign.
“Tomorrow, they will say, ‘Donald TrumpDonald TrumpWHCA dinner could be Trump's chance to one-up the media. He should take it. Trump promises border wall still coming at NRA summit Perez: Trump and Republican in Georgia runoff are '2 peas in a pod' MORE rants and raves at the press,’ the president said, mocking reporters. “I’m not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you. You know, you're dishonest people. But I'm not ranting and raving. I love this. I'm having a good time doing it.”
He appeared to have a better time taking questions from reporters than during a lengthy introduction during which he criticized the media, Democrats and the intelligence community.
Trump needled a number of news outlets, criticizing the BBC and joking with CNN reporter Jim Acosta, whom he angrily shut down last month at a press conference in New York. Trump said he had made sure that his new Labor nominee, Alexander Acosta, was no relation.
He tossed out plenty of head-scratching lines, such as when he asked a veteran African-American radio journalist to arrange a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus.
He also falsely claimed he won the most electoral votes since Ronald Reagan. When corrected by an NBC News reporter, Trump appeared to pin blame on his staff.
“Well, I don't know, I was given that information,” he said.
After three-straight news conferences in which he only called on reporters from conservative outlets, Trump took questions from several well-known broadcast journalists.
He was pressed on a wide-range of topics including, for the first time, the resignation of Flynn. Trump said he asked for Flynn to step down because he misled Vice President Pence and other senior staff, not because he did anything illegal or improper.
“I don't think he did anything wrong; if anything, he did something right,” he said. “You know, he was doing his job.”
Flynn’s sudden departure added to the turmoil surrounding Trump, whose approval ratings are at a historic low for a new president. A new Pew Research Center poll released Thursday showed less than four in 10 Americans approve of his job performance.
But Trump blamed the media for not giving his actions to fulfill his campaign promises enough attention.
He touted announcements by major corporations to add U.S. jobs, his nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and executive actions aimed at beginning the process of repealing ObamaCare and building a wall along the southern border.
The president said he would be submitting a tax reform plan to Congress early next month.
Trump brushed aside arguably the biggest controversy of his presidency, the botched rollout of his travel ban.
He chastised the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld a court order blocking it, as being wracked by “chaos” and “turmoil.” But at the same time, he said he would be unveiling a new executive action on national security next week.
Trump added a caveat to his all-is-well mantra, saying he sees a country plagued by job loss and low wages, while confronting Islamic extremists in the Middle East and threats posed by North Korea and Iran.
But as many presidents before him have, he placed the blame on his predecessor.
“To be honest, I inherited a mess. It's a mess. At home and abroad, a mess,” he said. “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.”