Texarkana Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - By Julie Pace

WASH­ING­TON—Ag­grieved and spoil­ing for a fight, Don­ald Trump used a marathon en­counter with re­porters Thurs­day to de­nounce the leaks that took down his top na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser and re­vived ques­tions about his own ties to Rus­sia. But he of­fered only a lawyerly de­nial that his cam­paign aides had been 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.

The 77-minute event amounted to a free-wheel­ing air­ing of com­plaints, with the new pres­i­dent at­tempt­ing to find his foot­ing after the rock­i­est launch in re­cent mem­ory. Trump slammed a “bad court” of ap­peals judges for block­ing his refugee and im­mi­gra­tion ex­ec­u­tive or­der and de­nied that his White House was par­a­lyzed by chaos and in­fight­ing among top ad­vis­ers.

“This ad­min­is­tra­tion is run­ning like a fine-tuned ma­chine,” he boasted.

With his sig­na­ture hyperbole be­trayed by re­al­ity, 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 out­go­ing Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion — “I in­her­ited a mess at home and abroad” — and the news me­dia.

Stand­ing in the stately, chan­de­liered East Room, Trump lam­basted the “out of con­trol” me­dia — long his fa­vorite foe. He ap­peared to de­light in joust­ing with re­porters, re­peat­edly in­ter­rupt­ing their ques­tions and sin­gling out sto­ries he dis­agreed with, well aware his at­tacks were sure to be cheered by loyal sup­port­ers who share his views.

Polls show Trump re­tains sup­port among Repub­li­cans, and solid ma­jori­ties of Amer­i­cans say he is fol­low­ing through on his prom­ises and is viewed as a strong leader, ac­cord­ing to a Gallup sur­vey. But on other ques­tions Amer­i­cans ex­press deep reser­va­tions. Ma­jori­ties say he doesn’t in­spire con­fi­dence and is not hon­est and trust­wor­thy.

Trump’s job ap­proval rat­ing is much lower than those of past pres­i­dents at the same point in their ad­min­is­tra­tions. Ac­cord­ing to a Pew Re­search Cen­ter sur­vey, 39 per­cent of Amer­i­cans ap­prove of his job per­for­mance while 56 per­cent dis­ap­prove.

Trump’s first month in of­fice has been chaotic by any mea­sure — a flurry of self-in­flicted wounds and poorly ex­e­cuted pol­icy. On Mon­day, he de­manded the res­ig­na­tion of his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn fol­low­ing 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 the re­port as “fake news” and said he had “noth­ing to do with Rus­sia.”

“To the best of my knowl­edge no per­son that I deal with does,” he added.

That an­swer, couched with a caveat sim­i­lar to one rou­tinely used by wit­nesses on a trial stand, ap­peared to give him wig­gle room.

The pres­i­dent more clearly de­fended Flynn’s calls with Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to the U.S. dur­ing the tran­si­tion pe­riod after his Novem­ber vic­tory. He 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 for some time that Flynn had given Pence an in­ac­cu­rate ac­count­ing of his dis­cus­sions with Rus­sia, but the pres- ident did not tell his No. 2 for about two weeks, ac­cord­ing to a time­line sup­plied by the White House.

The pres­i­dent has yet to an­nounce Flynn’s re­place­ment. His top choice, Vice Ad­mi­ral Robert Har­ward, turned down the job Thurs­day, largely be­cause of fam­ily con­cerns, ac­cord­ing to a White House of­fi­cial who would not be named be­cause Har­ward’s de­ci­sion has not been pub­licly an­nounced.

Trump re­peat­edly tried to steer ques­tions away from his and his ad­vis­ers’ po­ten­tial ties with Rus­sia, say­ing at­ten­tion should rather be fo­cused on why a steady stream of clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion is mak­ing its way into news re­ports.

He took a friendly pos­ture to­ward Rus­sia dur­ing the cam­paign and has spo­ken fa­vor­ably about Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. He’s yet to fully de­fine what a bet­ter re­la­tion­ship be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Moscow would look like, though he has said he wants to in­crease co­op­er­a­tion with Rus­sia in the fight against the Is­lamic State.

On Thurs­day, he seemed to lower ex­pec­ta­tions for the suc­cess, pre-emp­tively blam­ing me­dia re­ports for hurt­ing his chances of mak­ing good on cam­paign prom­ises to build a bet­ter re­la­tion­ship.

“If you were Putin right now, you would say, ‘Hey, we’re back to the old games with the United States, there’s no way Trump can ever do a deal with us,’” he said.

Trump vowed to move for­ward next week on his stalled plans to en­act “ex­treme vet­ting” mea­sures for peo­ple com­ing to the United States. He said he would sign a “new and very com­pre­hen­sive or­der” aimed at ad­dress­ing le­gal is­sues in his ini­tial di­rec­tive, which had tem­po­rar­ily halted the en­tire U.S. refugee pro­gram and all en­tries from seven Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity na­tions while the gov­ern­ment worked on new vet­ting pro­ce­dures.

A fed­eral ap­peals court re­jected the mea­sure, and Trump said his ad­min­is­tra­tion would be “ap­peal­ing.” Shortly after, the Jus­tice Depart­ment an­nounced it did not want a larger ap­pel­late panel to re­view the rul­ing and would in­stead re­place the ban.

The pres­i­dent took ques­tions Thurs­day from 17 re­porters, far more than at most pres­i­den­tial news con­fer­ences. His an­swers were of­ten un­wieldy, al­most stream of con­scious­ness, and some of his re­sponses were star­tlingly strange.

He said the “great­est thing” he could do was “shoot” a Rus­sian spy ship lin­ger­ing off the East Coast of the United States. He asked an African-Amer­i­can re­porter whether she could help set up a meet­ing with the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus. He wrongly stated that his Elec­toral Col­lege vic­tory had been the largest of any pres­i­dent since Ron­ald Rea­gan, then dis­missed the in­ac­cu­racy, say­ing he’d been “given that in­for­ma­tion.”

But the for­mer re­al­ity TV star of­ten ap­peared to be in his el­e­ment. He jousted with re­porters, par­tic­u­larly those he knows by name from his con­stant con­sump­tion of 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 his new pick to lead the La­bor Depart­ment.

Acosta’s nom­i­na­tion was os­ten­si­bly the pur­pose of the news con­fer­ence, though Trump dis­pensed with the an­nounce­ment in a few brief sen­tences. The pres­i­dent’s orig­i­nal choice to head the agency, Andy Puzder, with­drew his nom­i­na­tion on Wed­nes­day, an­other blow to the new ad­min­is­tra­tion.

AP writ­ers Ken Thomas, Dar­lene Su­perville and Eric Tucker contributed to this re­port.

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