The Press Conference. Thursday, February 16, Donald Trump met the press in the East Room of the White House. Arranged hastily, the conference was jammed with eager reporters from print, TV and radio. Millions of Americans watched and listened to 77 minutes of non-stop questions and answers. The president had decided that he would be the best spokesman to defend his first month in office. Before he referred to prepared remarks, he said, “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.”
From that opening, he launched a rambling, angry and emotional attack upon the “dishonest media” , “criminal leakers”, Democrats, Hillary Clinton and “bad judges”. If you were watching, it was a revealing and mesmerizing experience , hearing how his mind works and what matters most to him. At times, he seemed bewildered by “hatred” , needy: “I’m really not a bad person, by the way.” And playful, “ I love this.”
Main subjects covered: Michael Flynn’s resignation. The hottest topic was probably the most important. Revelations had become public in The Washington Post about the continued contact of members of Trump’s campaign with Russian officials during the campaign. It was widely reported and known that the Russians had hacked the presidential election for months in favor of Donald Trump. On October 29, Flynn made five telephone calls to the Russian ambassador to the U.S. That was the exact day President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and issued economic sanctions against Russia. Flynn insisted they did not talk about sanctions to Vice President Pence, who repeated that on Sunday talk shows. When Trump learned of Flynn’s involvement, he felt there had been “an erosion of trust” and asked for Flynn’s resignation. That occurred the next day.
During the press conference, different reporters posed direct questions to Trump about the entire event. His main response was that “Michael Flynn is a wonderful man. “ He has not been “fairly treated by the press.” He said he was not bothered if Flynn had talked to the Russian ambassador about the sanctions before arriving at the White House. “I didn’t direct him. But I would have, because that’s his job.” Trump’s answers to the different reporters on the subject focused on the “criminal leaks” from the Washington Post and the New York Times. He also stressed that reports that his aides had contacts with the Russians during the campaign were “a joke” and “fake news” put out by the media. “The press is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control. Later, he added, “ The public doesn’t believe you people anymore.”
Public approval rating. Trump bragged, “ A new Rasmussen poll came out just a short while ago , and it has our approval rating at 55 percent and going up.” Fact checkers consider Rasmussen an ‘outlier’. Current Pew polls have Trump’s approval rating at 39 percent in a downward trend. Gallup, another major poll, had approval at 38 percent on Friday, Feb. 18, well below the 46 percent who voted for him in November.
Muslim Travel Ban. Trump said, “We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban. We had a bad court.” Considering that everyone had followed the chaos in the airports here and around the world, that was a strange answer. He must have watched on television since it is known that he watches TV constantly. When asked about the unanimous rejection by the three judge Appeals Court, he denigrated the Ninth Circuit reputation. “That circuit is in chaos. And that circuit is frankly in turmoil”. Facts: Ninth circuit is known as the most liberal circuit. 18 of 25 judges were appointed by Democratic presidents. When he had tweeted “See you in Court!” at the time, most people assumed he would appeal to the Supreme Court. However, he told the reporters that his administration was preparing a new executive order over the weekend. And it appeared they would submit it first to the district court and then to the full ninth circuit once more.
Hillary Clinton. Trump said, “We had Hillary Clinton give Russia 20 percent of the uranium in our country. You know what uranium is, right ?” Facts: Secretary of State Clinton had nothing to do with the purchase by Russia’s nuclear power agency of controlling interest in a Toronto based company that has assets in the U.S. , including mills, mines and land used in producing uranium.
State of the economy and government. Trump opened with, “Our administration inherited many problems across government and across the economy. To be honest, I inherited a mess.” Facts: Neither the government nor the economy were in a mess when Trump became president. The unemployment rate is 4.8 percent, down from 7.7 percent when Obama became president. Last month, the economy added 227,000 new jobs continuing the steady monthly gains during Obama years recovery from the recession. The stock market is above 20,000. And the government he inherited was run as a “tight ship” with no incidence of scandal during both terms.
Anti-Semitism. A reporter from a Jewish publication asked the president for his reaction to the rise of anti-Semitic incidents around the country. Trump became angry, told him to sit down and declared, “ I am the least anti-Semitic person you have ever seen in your entire life. ” When the reporter tried to explain it was not a personal question, Trump said “Quiet. Quiet. Quiet.” He said the question was “repulsive” and very “insulting. He went on to talk about Netanyahu’s visit and pointed to his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner in the front row. Trump’s reaction and answer were a puzzling non sequitor to the question asked.
“Criminal leaks. Trump said during the press conference, “I’ve actually asked the Justice Department to look into the leaks.” Fact: It is unusual for a president to direct the agency to open a criminal investigation or to talk publicly about it. Presidents have tried to avoid the appearance of politicizing law enforcement. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………
Congressional Investigations of Russian/Trump Communications.
Republican and Democratic leaders have called for investigations into Michael Flynn’s telephone conversations with the Russian ambassador on October 29. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Dianne Feinstein, the top ranking Democrat, asked for a briefing and transcripts of Flynn’s telephone calls. James Comey, F.B.I. director met with members of the Judiciary Committee in a secret session. He had already had an interview with Flynn who denied he spoke about the Obama sanctions on Russia to the ambassador. If the transcripts reveal that Flynn lied to the F.B.I. , that is a felony. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Justice Department head, who took an active part in Trump’s entire campaign, has been urged to recuse himself from any investigation. At present, he has declined to do so.
Republican senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Pat Roberts favor a broader investigation. McCain has described Russian president Vladimir Putin as “a murderer and a thug”. He sees the current administration in “disarray” and is very concerned about Trump closeness and praise of Putin. Senator Chuck Schumer, Minority leaders has called for the Senate Intelligence Committee to lead a bipartisan investigation. On February l7, the New York Times lead editorial was explicit: Bring OnThe Special Prosecutor! “There is, in fact, only one person who could conduct such a high profile, politically sensitive investigation fairly and completely — a special prosecutor. “ Later, they wrote, “ The concern is particularly great in the case of the Trump administration which seems uninterested in telling the truth in matters large and small.”
Replacing Michael Flynn. The first choice, Vice Admiral Robert Harward declined the offer. Stationed in Abu Dhabi, he appeared reluctant to step into the tumult in the White House. A second possible choice, former General David Petraeus asked to have his name withdrawn for personal reasons. On Monday, February 20, Trump announced the appointment of Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster as the new national security adviser. McMaster, a battle tested veteran of the gulf war and the second Iraq war is known as a strategist and independent thinker. He has worked closely with General Mattis and is expected to bring vast experience and leadership to the National Security Council.
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………Joyce S. Anderson