WASHINGTON — President Trump, smarting from a series of crises, moved his surrogates aside on Thursday and assigned the rescue of his month-old presidency to the only spokesman he’s ever really trusted — himself.
For days, a frustrated and simmering president fumed inside the West Wing residence about what aides said he saw as his staff’s inadequate defense and the ineffectiveness of his own tweets. Over the objections of some top advisers who wanted to steer him away from confrontation, Mr. Trump demanded to face the media, determined to reject the narrative that his administration is sinking into chaos, scandal and incompetence.
In a rowdy, free-for-all news conference hastily staged in the East Room, Mr. Trump attempted to deflect attention from news coverage about Russian intelligence, the resignation of his national security adviser, the defeat of his labor secretary nominee, and deepening questions about his ability to govern.
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“I turn on the T.V., open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos,” Mr. Trump said as he attempted — with little discipline — to read from prepared remarks listing his accomplishments since being inaugurated one month ago. “Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.”
From there he offered a disjointed and emotional performance in which he appeared to release pent-up anger and suspicion about the “dishonest media,” Democrats, intelligence officials, “criminal” leakers, Hillary Clinton, environmentalists and judges.
Taking a room of reporters and the television audience on a journey through the Trump psyche, the president was at times angry (at the news media), playful (“I love this,”) bewildered (by “bias and hatred”), occasionally respectful (“It’s a great honor to be with you”) and needy (“I’m really not a bad person, by the way”).
Ever the salesman, Mr. Trump painted his presidency as he wishes it to be: an Electoral College victory so massive it was historic — a falsehood pointed out by a reporter in the room — plus accomplishments in the first four weeks that have outpaced, he said, every other president.
For his supporters, the performance was certain to be energizing. Mr. Trump turned sober questions from journalists into, at times, mesmerizing television. He attempted to reassert his command of “dishonest” journalists at a time when the news media is questioning his capacity to lead. It all made the brooding boss feel better, people close to Mr. Trump said.
The news conference, they said, was Mr. Trump’s best effort at spitting the bit out of his mouth and escaping the bridle of the West Wing, where he views his only way to communicate his side of any argument is his 140-character limited Twitter feed.
Still, it is unlikely that Mr. Trump’s 77-minute performance will divert much long-term attention from questions about his campaign’s relationship with Russia, or reassure wavering Republicans on Capitol Hill that their agenda is on track. Yet Mr. Trump’s close allies said he had met his more immediate goal of soothing himself with a sense of control over his own administration.
Mr. Trump, who has long required employees to sign nondisclosure agreements, has been unnerved, aides said, by leaks big and small, ranging from disclosures about his evenings spent alone in the White House residence to the details of his calls with global leaders. Now, Mr. Trump finds himself at the mercy of a vast, leaky bureaucracy.
“The first thing I thought of when I heard about it is: How does the press get this information that’s classified? How do they do it?” Mr. Trump said of the leaks. “The press should be ashamed of themselves.’’
The news conference was not without its high points for the embattled president. His initial statement about a surge of optimism in the business world and more jobs was, however fleetingly, a focused message on the issue that helped elect him. And he lured a few reporters into a trap of debating the quality of their reporting as opposed to the merits of their original questions.
And after complaining to aides about the dour delivery of his press secretary, Sean Spicer, at the daily televised briefing, Mr. Trump laced his own banter with humor.
But he also revealed how crushing he is finding the onslaught of criticism that a president receives, saying that he has long preferred the business media to the political press corps he must now deal with.
With the same lack of discipline that his supporters on the campaign trail found refreshing, Mr. Trump lashed out at the news media, which he called “out of control.” He accused The New York Times of publishing what he termed a “discredited” story — evidently a reference to an article this week about current and former American officials who say that phone records and intercepted calls show that members of his campaign had repeated contact with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.
He said The Wall Street Journal had published an article that was “almost as disgraceful.” He mocked Jim Acosta, a CNN correspondent, saying at one point, “Yeah, go ahead, Jimmy.”
His exchange with Mr. Acosta — a frequent foil for Mr. Trump in his news conferences on the campaign trail — made it clear that the president believes that the American people are with him, and against the news media. “That’s why the public sees it,” Mr. Trump said. “They see it. They see it’s not fair. The public is smart, they understand it.”
Mr. Trump also blamed former President Barack Obama — whom he had often described in glowing terms since his inauguration — for handing him a failing government.
“I inherited a mess,” Mr. Trump asserted. “It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess. Low pay, low wages, mass instability overseas, no matter where you look.”
At one point, Mr. Trump searched for a new face among the veteran White House reporters who were challenging him and settled on a journalist wearing a skullcap whom he clearly did not recognize, hoping for the best.
“Are you a friendly reporter?’’ Mr. Trump said. The response of the reporter, Jake Turx of Ami magazine, a Jewish publication, could not be heard in the room.
The president’s anger then flared when Mr. Turx asked about a rise in anti-Semitic incidents around the country.
Telling Mr. Turx to sit down and accusing him of lying about asking a “very straight, simple question,” Mr. Trump rejected the charge that he is personally anti-Semitic — something the reporter had explicitly said he was not asserting.
At one point, Mr. Trump predicted how the news media would cover the event — and preemptively rejected that, too.
“Tomorrow, they will say, ‘Donald Trump rants and raves at the press,’” Mr. Trump said. “I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But — but I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time doing it.”
Published at Fri, 17 Feb 2017 02:10:32 +0000