Trump says White House ‘fine-tuned ma­chine,’ de­spite tur­moil

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - NEWS - By Dar­lene Su­perville and Ken Thomas

WASH­ING­TON >> Don­ald Trump mounted an ag­gres­sive de­fense of his young pres­i­dency Thurs­day, lam­bast­ing re­ports that his cam­paign ad­vis­ers had in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­tact with Rus­sian of­fi­cials and vow­ing to crack down on the leak­ing of clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion.

Nearly a month into his pres­i­dency, Trump in­sisted in a free-wheel­ing White House news con­fer­ence that his new ad­min­is­tra­tion had made “sig­nif­i­cant progress” and took credit for an op­ti­mistic busi­ness cli­mate and a ris­ing stock mar­ket.

The pres­i­dent de­nounced me­dia re­ports of a chaotic start to his ad­min­is­tra­tion marked by his con­tentious ex­ec­u­tive order — re­jected by a fed­eral ap­peals court — to place a ban on trav­el­ers from seven pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim na­tions. Trump said he would an­nounce a “new and very com­pre­hen­sive order to pro­tect our peo­ple” next week.

“This ad­min­is­tra­tion is run­ning like a fine-tuned ma­chine,” Trump de­clared in a lengthy news con­fer­ence that saw the new com­man­der in chief re­peat­edly in­ter­rupt­ing re­porters’ ques­tions and air­ing his griev­ances.

Through­out the en­counter the new pres­i­dent de­liv­ered re­cur­ring crit­i­cism of the news me­dia, ac­cus­ing it of be­ing “out of con­trol” and promis­ing to take his mes­sage “straight to the peo­ple.”

He dis­missed re­cent re­ports in The New York Times and on CNN that Trump cam­paign aides had been in con­tact with Rus­sian of­fi­cials be­fore his elec­tion. Trump called Paul Manafort, his for­mer cam­paign man­ager who has ties to Ukraine and Rus­sia, a “re­spected man.”

Pressed re­peat­edly, Trump said that “no­body that I know of” on his cam­paign staff had con­tacted Rus­sian of­fi­cials. He called such re­ports a “ruse” and said he had “noth­ing to do with Rus­sia.” Trump added, “Rus­sia is fake news. This is fake news put out by the me­dia.”

Amid re­ports of wide­spread leaks within his ad­min­is­tra­tion, Trump also warned that he would clamp down on the dis­sem­i­na­tion of sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion, say­ing he had asked the Jus­tice De­part­ment to in­ves­ti­gate. “Those are crim­i­nal leaks,” adding, “The leaks are real. The news is fake.”

He blamed any prob­lems on the out­go­ing Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. “I in­her­ited a mess at home and abroad — a mess,” Trump said.

Democrats said Trump’s re­fusal to say for sure that his cam­paign staff wasn’t in con­tact in the Krem­lin un­der­scored the need for an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion through a spe­cial con­gres­sional se­lect com­mit­tee, a com­mis­sion styled af­ter the re­view of the 9/11 at­tacks or an in­de­pen­dent coun­sel from the Jus­tice De­part­ment. “His si­lence speaks vol­umes,” said Adri­enne Wat­son, a spokes­woman for the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee.

The pres­i­dent an­nounced that Alexan­der Acosta, the dean of the Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity law school, would be his nom­i­nee for La­bor sec­re­tary. That came a day af­ter fast-food ex­ec­u­tive An­drew Puzder with­drew his nom­i­na­tion for La­bor af­ter los­ing sup­port among Repub­li­can sen­a­tors.

Trump, a re­al­ity tele­vi­sion star and real es­tate mogul who was elected as an out­sider in­tent on change, said his ousted na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Michael Flynn, was “just do­ing his job” in talk­ing with Rus­sian of­fi­cials be­fore the in­au­gu­ra­tion. But he said he was “not happy” with how Flynn de­scribed his phone call with a Rus­sian diplo­mat to Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence.

Trump knew for weeks that Flynn had mis­led Pence but did not in­form the vice pres­i­dent, ac­cord­ing to a time­line of events supplied by the White House.

Trump said he had iden­ti­fied a strong re­place­ment for Flynn, which made the de­ci­sion to let him go eas­ier.

Trump is said to fa­vor Vice Ad­mi­ral Robert Har­ward, a for­mer Navy SEAL, as his next na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, ac­cord­ing to a White House of­fi­cial. Har­ward met with top White House of­fi­cials last week and has the back­ing of De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis. He was meet­ing with of­fi­cials later Thurs­day.

Ad­dress­ing im­mi­gra­tion, one of the big­gest is­sues of the past cam­paign, Trump said it was dif­fi­cult deal­ing with the pol­icy known as DACA, which al­lows young adults to get work per­mits and So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers and pro­tects them from de­por­ta­tion. Re­fer­ring to the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals rule, he said he would “deal with DACA with heart.”

While Trump has promised to halt il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion as a cor­ner­stone of his ad­min­is­tra­tion, he has also promised to fo­cus on peo­ple who have com­mit­ted crimes. He said he had the “best lawyers” work­ing on the pol­icy now and the “new ex­ec­u­tive order is be­ing tai­lored to the de­ci­sion we got from the court.”

Ear­lier in the day, Trump had a break­fast meet­ing with some of his staunch­est House sup­port­ers.

The White House has said Trump asked for Flynn’s res­ig­na­tion be­cause he had mis­led Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence over his deal­ings with Rus­sia and whether he had dis­cussed sanc­tions with Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to the U.S. be­fore Trump’s Jan. 20 in­au­gu­ra­tion. Flynn pre­vi­ously had de­nied those con­ver­sa­tions to Pence and other top of­fi­cials.


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence, Thurs­day, Feb. 16, 2017, in the East Room of the White House in Wash­ing­ton.

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