From Melania to Russia to the travel ban: Seven talking points from Trump's extraordinary press conference
- Trump insists his presidency is 'a fine tuned machine'
- Trump says 'nobody I know of' in his campaign had contact with Russia
- He defends Melania and insists she is being 'so unfairly maligned'
- Travel ban to be replaced 'in the near future'
DONALD TRUMP insisted that he had "inherited a mess" as he launched the most vigorous defence of his presidency to date during a wide-ranging 75-minute impromptu press conference yesterday.
Mr Trump claimed his administration was operating like a "fine-tuned machine" and railed against claims to the contrary during a session initially intended as an introduction of his new cabinet nominee.
He insisted that his team was running "like a fine-tuned machine" and lampooned the mainstream media that he said was peddling "fake news".
“I open the paper and I see stories of chaos, chaos,” he said. “It’s the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite not being able to get my cabinet approved.”
Pres. Trump: "This country was seriously divided before I got here... This isn't Donald Trump that divided a nation" https://t.co/fS7RKtur56— CNN (@CNN) February 16, 2017
The president briefly noted that Alexander Acosta would be the next secretary of labour before launching into an impassioned defence of himself and his policies.
"I inherited a mess, at home and abroad, a mess," he said. "No matter where you look, a disaster... we'll take care of it. I just wanted to let you know I inherited a mess."
- Read more: 'I inherited a disaster,' rages Donald Trump
Mr Trump said his rivals and the media continued to claim his administration was in "chaos", but the reality was "the exact opposite", and that no previous president had accomplished so much and so quickly.
He jolted from anger, to humour to defiance, claiming that while he knew the headlines would say he had "ranted and raved", he was enjoying himself.
- Read more: New blow for Trump as Harward refuses national security adviser job
- Read more: Trump's brilliant strategy: outfox America's foes by seeming to have no clue whatsoever
The press conference marked a return to Mr Trump's improvisational style during the campaign following weeks in which his public statements had come largely on Twitter or in exchanges with friendly media outlets.
A White House official told CNN the president had simply strolled into the Oval Office and said: "Let's do a press conference today."
Leaking, and even illegal classified leaking, has been a big problem in Washington for years. Failing @nytimes (and others) must apologize!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2017
And here are the six things you need to know about it:
Mr Trump claimed reports that his senior campaign aides had been in contact with Russian intelligence officials were a “ruse” designed to undermine his presidency.
He twice declined to say whether the reports were accurate, though, until finally clarifying that “nobody that I know of” had held conversations with Russian agents.
"The good thing is it's starting to turn. People are starting to focus on the illegal giving out classified information,” he said.
President Donald Trump: "I'm really not a bad person, by the way. I do get good ratings" https://t.co/6R0oltnk93— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 16, 2017
He also declined to criticise Vladimir Putin for stepping up his aggression toward the US, saying he believed negative media coverage had convinced Mr Putin that a potential “deal” was off.
2: Michael Flynn
Mr Trump said he was not concerned that Michael Flynn, until recently his national security adviser, had discussed sanctions to be handed down by Barack Obama with the Russian ambassador last year despite a law against negotiating with foreign powers.
“Mike was doing his job,” Mr Trump said, adding that he “would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn’t doing it.”
Mr Trump said the reason he demanded Mr Flynn’s resignation was that the retired general had not recounted the conversations accurately to Mike Pence, the vice-president.
3: Electoral College
Mr Trump repeated a false claim that his had been “the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.”
In fact, Mr Obama’s wins in 2008 and 2012 had both been by significantly larger margins than Mr Trump’s.
Indeed, Bill Clinton’s margins of victory in 1992 and 1996 were both far larger, and in 1988 George HW Bush won a whopping 426 electoral college votes, compared to 304 for Mr Trump.
When confronted with those facts Mr Trump gave a stuttering reply, saying he had been “given that information” and suggesting that he could not be held responsible for any inaccuracies.
“Well, I don't know, I was given that information. I was given, I actually I've seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory, do you agree with that?” he asked.
4: Travel ban
Mr Trump said the introduction of his controversial immigration and refugee ban had been “very smooth”, and that a “bad court” had made the wrong ruling in blocking it.
He said he would issue a new executive order next week to protect the American people to lessen the effects of that “bad decision”.
5: The media
Mr Trump returned to his favourite territory of attacking the media, describing the BBC once again, with deep sarcasm, as “another beauty” and berating the astonished journalists, only to tell them: “I’d be a good reporter.”
“I don't mind bad stories. I can handle a bad story better than anybody as long as it's true,” he said.
“But I'm not OK when it is fake. I mean, I watch CNN, it's so much anger and hatred and just the hatred.”
He continued: “I see tone. You know the word ‘tone’. The tone is such hatred. I'm really not a bad person, by the way. No, but the tone is such - I do get good ratings, you have to admit that - the tone is such hatred.”
6. 'Are they friends of yours?'
During the press conference, Mr Trump asked a black reporter whether the Congressional Black Caucus was “friends of yours” after she questioned him on whether the parliamentary group would be involved in inner-city policy decisions.
April Ryan, White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks, asked Mr Trump whether the CBC would be asked to help work on urban renewal.
Mr Trump initially appeared to be unaware of who the group was.
“Are you going to include the CBC, Mr President, in your conversations with your urban agenda, your inner city agenda?” he was asked.
“Am I going to include who?” he replied.
Up until an hour ago, the scariest thing I'd ever watched was Psycho. #TrumpPresser— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) February 16, 2017
When Ryan explained she was referring to the 45-member congressional association, he asked if the reporter could set up a meeting.
“I tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting?” he asked. “Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?”
Ryan, taken aback, replied: “I'm just a reporter.”
Mr Trump continued: “Well, then set up the meeting.
“Let's go set up a meeting. I would love to meet with the Black Caucus.
“I think it's great, the Congressional Black Caucus. I think it's great.”
In response the CBC immediately tweeted that they had written a five-page letter to Mr Trump on January 19, on the eve of his inauguration, suggesting ways to improve the urban environment – but had never heard back.
Mr Trump launched a strident defence of his wife, insisting that Melania Trump was “a fantastic person” who would embrace the role of first lady.
April Ryan asks Trump if he's gonna meet w/ Congressional Black Caucus— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) February 16, 2017
Trump: “Do you wanna set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?” pic.twitter.com/hvRk3npqtJ
“I’ve known her a long time,” he said, speaking of his wife of 11 years.
The 46-year-old, whose absence in the first three weeks of her husband’s presidency has raised eyebrows, would soon begin to work on “women’s issues”, he said.
“A funny thing happens,” said Mr Trump. “She gets so unfairly maligned. The things they say.
“She would go home at night and wouldn’t even want to go out with people. She was a very private person. She was always the highest quality that you will ever find.
“The things they say are so unfair,” he said.