TRUMP CON­DEMNS leaks, de­nies Rus­sia con­tact.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Julie Pace, Ken Thomas, Dar­lene Su­perville, Eric Tucker and Julie Bykow­icz of The As­so­ci­ated Press; and by Ash­ley Parker, John Wag­ner, Sari Hor­witz, Adam En­tous, Jon­nelle Marte and Steven Muf­son of The Washi

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Thurs­day an­grily de­nounced “crim­i­nal” leaks for tak­ing down his top na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser after less than a month and re­viv­ing ques­tions about his own ties to Rus­sia.

He de­nied that his cam­paign aides were in touch with Rus­sian of­fi­cials be­fore last fall’s elec­tion. “No­body that I know,” he said in the first full-length news con­fer­ence of his pres­i­dency.

In the 77- minute event, the pres­i­dent slammed a “bad court” of ap­peals judges for block­ing his refugee and im­mi­gra­tion ex­ec­u­tive or­der, and de­nied that his White House is par­a­lyzed by chaos and in­fight­ing among top ad­vis­ers.

“I turn on the TV, open the news­pa­pers and I see sto­ries of chaos — chaos,” he said. “Yet it is the ex­act op­po­site. This ad­min­is­tra­tion is run­ning like a fine-tuned ma­chine, de­spite the fact that I can’t get my Cabi­net ap­proved.”

Trump said there has never been a pres­i­dent “who in this short pe­riod of time has done what we’ve done.” He blamed any prob­lems on the news me­dia and on for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s out­go­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion. “I in­her­ited a mess at home and abroad,” he said.

Stand­ing in the stately, chan­de­liered East Room of the White House, Trump lam­basted the “out of con­trol” me­dia. He jousted with re­porters, re­peat­edly in­ter­rupt­ing their ques­tions and sin­gling out sto­ries on which he dis­agreed.

De­spite Trump’s dec­la­ra­tions, his first month in of­fice has been marked by con­tro­versy. His ex­ec­u­tive or­der on im­mi­gra­tion sparked protests and court chal­lenges.

On Mon­day, he asked for the res­ig­na­tion of na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn after rev­e­la­tions that Flynn mis­led Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence about his con­tacts with Rus­sia.

The next day, The New York Times re­ported that mul­ti­ple Trump ad­vis­ers were in touch with Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence ad­vis­ers dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign.

Trump panned Tues­day’s re­port as “fake news” and said he had “noth­ing to do with Rus­sia.”

“I can tell you, speak­ing for my­self, I own noth­ing in Rus­sia,” Trump said. “I have no loans in Rus­sia. I don’t have any deals in Rus­sia. Pres­i­dent [Vladimir] Putin called me up very nicely to con­grat­u­late me on the win of the elec­tion. He then, called me up ex­tremely nicely to con­grat­u­late me on the in­au­gu­ra­tion, which was ter­rific. But so did many other lead­ers, al­most all other lead­ers from al­most all of the coun­try. So that’s the ex­tent.”

The pres­i­dent more clearly de­fended Flynn’s calls with Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to the U.S. dur­ing the tran­si­tion pe­riod after Trump’s Novem­ber vic­tory. Trump said that while he did not tell his ad­viser to dis­cuss sanc­tions with the en­voy, “I would have di­rected him if he didn’t do it.”

The pres­i­dent said that while Flynn was “just do­ing his job,” he was “not happy” that the ad­viser had mis­led the vice pres­i­dent. Trump knew that Flynn had given Pence an in­ac­cu­rate ac­count­ing of his dis­cus­sions with Rus­sia, but the pres­i­dent did not tell Pence for about two weeks, ac­cord­ing to a time­line sup­plied by the White House.

“He didn’t tell the vice pres­i­dent of the United States the facts,” Trump said of Flynn. “And then he didn’t re­mem­ber. And that just wasn’t ac­cept­able to me.”

The pres­i­dent is ex­pected to soon an­nounce Flynn’s re­place­ment. Re­tired Vice Adm. Robert Har­ward, a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive at Lock­heed Martin, who was ru­mored to be vet­ted by Trump for the po­si­tion, turned down the of­fer, peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the de­ci­sion said.

As the ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tin­ues to deal with the fall­out from Flynn’s res­ig­na­tion, cur­rent and for­mer U.S. of­fi­cials said the for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser de­nied to FBI agents in an in­ter­view last month that he had dis­cussed U.S. sanc­tions with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador, con­tra­dict­ing the con­tents of in­ter­cepted com­mu­ni­ca­tions col­lected by in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.

Lying to the FBI is a felony, but any de­ci­sion to pros­e­cute ul­ti­mately would lie with the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

A spokesman for Flynn said he had no re­sponse. The FBI de­clined to com­ment.

Flynn spoke to Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak after Trump’s elec­tion, and de­nied for weeks that the De­cem­ber con­ver­sa­tion in­volved sanc­tions that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion im­posed on Rus­sia in re­sponse to Rus­sia’s med­dling in the U.S. elec­tion.

In a re­cent in­ter­view with The Daily Caller, Flynn said he didn’t dis­cuss “sanc­tions” but did dis­cuss the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ex­pul­sion of 35 Rus­sian diplo­mats, which was part of the sanc­tions pack­age an­nounced Dec. 29.

Two days after his Jan. 24 in­ter­view with the FBI, act­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Sally Yates in­formed Don­ald McGahn, Trump’s White House coun­sel, about the con­tents of the in­ter­cepted phone call. Yates and other of­fi­cials were con­cerned that Rus­sia could use the mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the call to black­mail the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser and did not think it was fair to keep Pence in the dark about the dis­crep­an­cies, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with their think­ing.


At Thurs­day’s news con­fer­ence, Trump re­peat­edly sought to steer ques­tions away from his and his ad­vis­ers’ po­ten­tial ties with Rus­sia, say­ing that at­ten­tion should in­stead be fo­cused on why a stream of clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion is mak­ing its way into news re­ports.

“The leaks are ab­so­lutely real, the news is fake, be­cause so much of the news is fake,” Trump said.

In tak­ing ques­tions, he said the “great­est thing” he could do was “shoot” a Rus­sian spy ship lin­ger­ing off the East Coast of the United States. Also, he said — in­ac­cu­rately — that his Elec­toral Col­lege vic­tory in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was the largest of any pres­i­dent since Ron­ald Rea­gan, and then dis­missed that in­ac­cu­racy, say­ing he’d been “given that in­for­ma­tion.”

Trump also said his ad­min­is­tra­tion would sub­mit a re­place­ment plan for the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act in early to mid-March, and should have a tax over­haul pack­age around the same time.

“Tax re­form is go­ing to hap­pen fairly quickly,” Trump said. “We’re do­ing Oba­macare. We’re in fi­nal stages.”

Trump re­peat­edly blasted the “fake news” me­dia, call­ing it at one point the “very fake news” me­dia.

“The me­dia is try­ing to at­tack our ad­min­is­tra­tion be­cause they know we are fol­low­ing through on pledges we made, and they’re not happy about it for what­ever rea­son,” he said.

Through­out the news con­fer­ence, Trump al­ter­nated be­tween show­er­ing the me­dia with scorn and tak­ing a more play­ful tone.

At one point, he in­sisted that he was en­joy­ing him­self. “I’m not rant­ing and rav­ing — I love this,” he said. “I’m hav­ing a good time do­ing this.”

He sparred with re­porters, par­tic­u­larly those he knows by name from tele­vi­sion news. He jok­ingly told CNN’s Jim Acosta that he had checked whether he was re­lated to Alexan­der Acosta, the dean of the Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity law school, who is Trump’s new pick to lead the La­bor Depart­ment.

The news con­fer­ence was billed as a chance for Trump to an­nounce the nom­i­nee.

Trump said Acosta, a for­mer clerk to Supreme Court Jus­tice Sa­muel Al­ito, has had a “tremen­dous ca­reer.”

If con­firmed, the son of Cuban-Amer­i­can par­ents would be the first His­panic mem­ber of Trump’s Cabi­net.

The nom­i­nee earned his un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree from Har­vard Col­lege and re­ceived a law de­gree from Har­vard Law School. He pre­vi­ously worked at the law firm Kirk­land & El­lis and taught at the Ge­orge Ma­son School of Law.

Trump’s an­nounce­ment came on a day when se­na­tors were sched­uled to ques­tion his first choice for the la­bor post, fast-food chief ex­ec­u­tive An­drew Puzder, in con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings. Puzder with­drew his nom­i­na­tion Wed­nes­day as sup­port wa­vered from Repub­li­cans and scru­tiny of his per­sonal life was stepped up.

Democrats and la­bor groups had been con­cerned about Puzder’s op­po­si­tion to wage and la­bor reg­u­la­tions, but it was his sup­port of an im­mi­gra­tion over­haul and the rev­e­la­tion that he once hired an il­le­gal alien to work in his home that ul­ti­mately cost him GOP sup­port.

Un­like Puzder, who has a long back­ground in busi­ness and a his­tory of op­pos­ing gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions, Acosta has pub­lic- ser­vice ex­pe­ri­ence.


Sep­a­rately, Trump an­nounced a cam­paign rally Satur­day in Florida — 1,354 days be­fore the 2020 elec­tion.

The early pol­i­tick­ing comes after Trump filed his pa­per­work for re-elec­tion on Jan. 20, In­au­gu­ra­tion Day. By com­par­i­son, Obama didn’t make his re-elec­tion bid for 2012 of­fi­cial with the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion un­til April 2011.

Satur­day’s Florida event will be Trump’s first rally as pres­i­dent, al­though he ar­ranged sev­eral “thank you” ral­lies after his elec­toral win.

The event is set to be held in an air­port hangar in Mel­bourne, Fla., and it comes as he plans an­other week­end trip to his Mar-a-Lago re­sort in Palm Beach.

Trump also said he would play golf this week­end with Ernie Els, a South African pro­fes­sional golfer. It will be Trump’s third-con­sec­u­tive week­end at Mar-a-Lago.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the rally is “be­ing run by the cam­paign.” It fol­lows an of­fi­cial trip to­day to South Carolina, where Trump is to visit a Boe­ing fa­cil­ity in North Charleston.

Michael Glass­ner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Trump’s cam­paign com­mit­tee, did not re­spond to ques­tions.


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speaks Thurs­day dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in the East Room of the White House.

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