JUDY WOODRUFF: After days of setbacks, a Cabinet nominee dropping out, a resigned national security adviser, and a court rejection of his travel ban, President Trump went on the offensive today.
At a 77-minute-long news conference, he rejected charges of ties between his campaign and Russia, blasted the intelligence community for leaks, and repeatedly attacked the news media.
The president said he inherited a mess at home and abroad, but he dismissed the notion of a White House in turmoil.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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, despite the fact that I can’t get my Cabinet approved.
Let me list to you some of the things that we’ve done in just a short period of time. I just got here. And I got here with no Cabinet. Again, each of these actions is a promise I made to the American people.
So, I will go over just some of them. And we have a lot happening next week and in the weeks –in the weeks coming.
We’ve withdrawn from the job-killing disaster known as Trans-Pacific Partnership. We’re going to make trade deals, but we’re going to have one-on-one deals, bilateral.
We’ve undertaken the most substantial border security measures in a generation to keep our nation and our tax dollars safe, and are now in the process of beginning to build a promised wall on the southern border.
The price is going to come down just like it has on everything else I have negotiated for the government. And we are going to have a wall that works. We’re not going to have a wall like they have now, which is either nonexistent or a joke.
We’ve begun preparing to repeal and replace Obamacare. Obamacare is a disaster, folks. It’s disaster. I know you can say, oh, Obamacare. I mean, they fill up our alleys with people that you wonder how they get there, but they are not the Republican people our that representatives are representing.
So we’ve begun preparing to repeal and replace Obamacare, and are deep in the midst of negotiations on a very historic tax reform to bring our jobs back, to bring our jobs back to this country, big league. It’s already happening, but big league.
I have kept my promise to the American people by nominating a justice of the United States Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, who is from my list of 20, and who will be a true defender of our laws and our Constitution, highly respected, should get the votes from the Democrats. You may not see that. But he’ll get there one way or the other.
This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country. Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that’s done so much in such a short period of time. And we have not even started the big work yet. That starts early next week.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The president also faced repeated questions about Russian contacts with officials in his campaign and about firing National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.
The Washington Post reported this evening Flynn denied to the FBI last month that he discussed lifting sanctions with the Russian ambassador, but intercepted communications indicate he did.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Mike Flynn is a fine person, and I asked for his resignation. He respectfully gave it. He is a man who there was a certain amount of information given to Vice President Pence, who is with us today. And I was not happy with the way that information was given.
He didn’t have to do that, because what he did wasn’t wrong — what he did in terms of the information he saw. What was wrong was the way that other people, including yourselves in this room, were given that information, because that was classified information that was given illegally. That’s the real problem.
QUESTION: What will you do on the leaks? You’ve said twice today…
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yes, we’re looking at them very — very, very serious. I have gone to all of the folks in charge of the various agencies, and we’re — I have actually called the Justice Department to look into the leaks.
Those are criminal leaks. They’re put out by people either in agencies — I think you’ll see it stopping because now we have our people in. You know, again, we don’t have our people in because we can’t get them approved by the Senate.
QUESTION: Did you direct Mike Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador…
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, I didn’t.
QUESTION: … prior to your …
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, I didn’t.
QUESTION: … inauguration?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, I didn’t.
QUESTION: And then fired him …
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Excuse me.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence. Very simple.
Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So, it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn’t doing it.
I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him because that’s his job.
QUESTION: During the campaign, did anyone from your team communicate with members of the Russian government or Russian intelligence? And, if so, what was the nature of those conversations?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia. President 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 countries. So that’s the extent.
Russia is fake news. Russia — this is fake news put out by the media.
The false reporting by the media, by you people, the false, horrible, fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia. And probably Putin said, you know — he’s sitting behind his desk, and he’s saying, you know, I see what’s going on in the United States. I follow it closely. It’s going to be impossible for President Trump to ever get along with Russia because of all the pressure he’s got with this fake story, OK?
QUESTION: Is Putin testing you, do you believe, sir?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, I don’t think so. I think Putin probably assumes that he can’t make a deal with me anymore because politically it would be unpopular for a politician to make a deal. I can’t believe I’m saying I’m a politician, but I guess that’s what I am now.
Because, look, it would be much easier for me to be tough on Russia, but then we’re not going to make a deal.
Now, I don’t know that we’re going to make a deal. I don’t know. We might. We might not. But it would be much easier for me to be so tough — the tougher I am on Russia, the better. But you know what? I want to do the right thing for the American people. And to be honest, secondarily, I want to do the right thing for the world.
QUESTION: I was just hoping that we could get a yes-or-no answer on one of these questions involving Russia. Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I told you, General Flynn obviously was dealing. So that’s one person. But he was dealing, as he should have been.
QUESTION: During the election?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No. Nobody that I know of. Nobody …
QUESTION: So you’re not aware of any contact during the course …
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Look, look, look …
QUESTION: … of the election?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: How many times do I have to answer this question?
QUESTION: Can you just say yes or no?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Russia is a ruse.
I know you have to get up and ask a question. It’s so important.
But Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn’t. I just have nobody to speak to.
I spoke to Putin twice. He called me on the election. I told you this. And he called me on the inauguration, a few days ago.
We had a very good talk, especially the second one, lasted for a pretty long period of time. I’m sure you probably get it because it was classified. So I’m sure everybody in this room perhaps has it. But we had a very, very good talk.
I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Trump also defended his ban on travelers from seven mostly Muslim nations. It’s been blocked in federal court.
Today, the Justice Department announced that the order will be rescinded. The president said that a new one is coming, and he addressed the fate of immigrant children shielded from deportation under the so-called DACA program.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Let me tell you about the travel ban. We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban. But we had a bad court. Got a bad decision. We had a court that’s been overturned. Again, may be wrong, but I think it’s 80 percent of the time, a lot.
We had a bad decision. We’re going to keep going with that decision. We’re going to put in a new executive order next week some time. But we had a bad decision.
Now, what I wanted to do was do the exact same executive order, but said one thing. I said this to my people. Give them a one-month period of time. But General Kelly, now Secretary Kelly, said, if you do that, all these people will come in a month, the bad ones.
You do agree there are bad people out there, right, that not everybody that’s like you. You have some bad people out there.
So, Kelly said you can’t do that. And he was right. As soon as he said it I said, wow, never thought of it. I said how about one week? He said, no good. You got to do it immediately, because, if you do it immediately, they don’t have time to come in.
Now, nobody ever reports that. But that’s why we did it quickly.
LISA DESJARDINS: Can you give us more details on the executive order you plan for next week? Even its broad outlines?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yes.
LISA DESJARDINS: Will it be focused on specific …
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It’s a very fair question.
LISA DESJARDINS: … countries? And, in addition, on the DACA program for immigration.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Right.
LISA DESJARDINS: What is your plan? Do you plan to continue that program or to end it?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to show great heart. DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you. To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have, because you have these incredible kids, in many cases, not in all cases.
In some of the cases, they’re having DACA, and they’re gang members, and they’re drug dealers, too. But you have some absolutely incredible kids, I would say mostly. And they were brought here in such a way — it’s a very — it’s a very, very tough subject.
We’re going to deal with DACA with heart. I have to deal with a lot of politicians, don’t forget, and I have to convince them that what I’m saying is — is right. And I appreciate your understanding on that.
But the DACA situation is a very, very — it’s a very difficult thing for me, because, you know, I love these kids. I love kids. I have kids and grandkids. And I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do, and you know, the law is rough.
I’m not talking about new laws. I’m talking the existing law is very rough. It’s very, very rough. As far as the new order, the new order is going to be very much tailored to the — what I consider to be a very bad decision.
But we can tailor the order to that decision and get just about everything, in some ways more. But we’re tailoring it now to the decision, we have some of the best lawyers in the country working on it.
And the new executive order is being tailored to the decision we got down from the court. OK?
HARI SREENIVASAN: On Russia and other topics, the president’s scorn of news coverage was on full display. He insisted news organizations are giving a skewed, negative view of his actions and are woefully out of touch with the country.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Many of our nation’s reporters and folks will not tell you the truth, and will not treat the wonderful people of our country with the respect that they deserve.
And I hope, going forward, we can be a little bit — a little bit different, and maybe get along a little bit better, if that’s possible. Maybe it’s not, and that’s OK, too.
Unfortunately, much of the media in Washington, D.C., along with New York, Los Angeles, in particular, speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system.
The press has become so dishonest that, if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice. We have to talk about it, to find out what’s going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.
And I will tell you something. I will be honest, because I sort of enjoy this back and forth, and I guess I have all my life, but I have never seen more dishonest media than, frankly, the political media. I thought the financial media was much better, much more honest.
But I will say that I never get phone calls from the media.
QUESTION: You said that the leaks are real, but the news is fake. I guess I don’t understand. It seems that there’s a disconnect there. If the information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The reporting is fake. Look, look …
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know what it is? Here’s the thing.
The public isn’t — you know, they read newspapers, they see television, they watch. They don’t know if it’s true or false, because they’re not involved. I’m involved. I’ve been involved with this stuff all my life.
But I’m involved. So, I know when you’re telling the truth or when you’re not. I just see many, many untruthful things.
And I will tell you what else I see. I see tone. You know the word tone. The tone is such hatred. I’m really not a bad person, by the way. No, but the tone is such — I do get good ratings, you have to admit that — the tone is such hatred.
You look at your show that goes on at 10:00 the evening. You just take a look at that show. That is a constant hit. The panel is almost always exclusive anti-Trump. The good news is, he doesn’t have good ratings. But the panel is almost exclusive anti-Trump. And the hatred and venom coming from his mouth, the hatred coming from other people on your network.
Now, I will say this. I’m actually having a very good time, OK? But they will take this news conference — don’t forget, that’s the way I won. Remember, I used to give you a news conference every time I made a speech, which was like every day.
Tomorrow, they will say, Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.
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.
But, tomorrow, the headlines are going to be, Donald Trump rants and raves.
Look, I want to see an honest press. When I started off today by saying that it’s so important to the public to get an honest press. The press — the public doesn’t believe you people anymore.
Now, maybe I had something to do with that. I don’t know. But they don’t believe you. If you were straight and really told it like it is, as Howard Cosell used to say, right? Of course, he had some questions also.
But, if you were straight, I would be your biggest booster. I would be your biggest fan in the world, including bad stories about me. But if you go — as an example, you’re CNN. I mean, it’s story after story after story is bad.
I won. I won.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The president went on to say, “This is going to be a bad question,” before calling on reporter April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks.
APRIL RYAN, American Urban Radio Networks: When you say the inner cities, are you going — are you going to include the CBC, Mr. President, in your conversations with your — your urban agenda, your inner city agenda, as well as …
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Am I going to include who?
APRIL RYAN: Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional …
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I would. I tell you what. Do you want to set up the meeting?
APRIL RYAN: … Hispanic Caucus?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Do you want to set up the meeting?
APRIL RYAN: No — no — no. I’m not …
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Are they friends of yours?
APRIL RYAN: I’m just a reporter.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, then, set up the meeting.
APRIL RYAN: I know some of them, but I’m sure they’re watching right now.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Let’s go set up a meeting. I would love to meet with the Black Caucus. I think it’s great, the Congressional Black Caucus. I think it’s great.
I actually thought I had a meeting with Congressman Cummings, and he was all excited. And then he said: Well, I can’t move. It might be bad for me politically. I can’t have that meeting.
I was all set to have the meeting. You know, we called him and called him. And he was all set. I spoke to him on the phone, very nice guy.
APRIL RYAN: I hear he wanted that meeting with you as well.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He wanted it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: For the record, the Congressional Black Caucus says it has been asking to meet with the president, but never received a response.
That leads us to our final highlight: an exchange where Mr. Trump was called out for making another false statement.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We got 306, because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before, so that’s the way it goes.
I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.
QUESTION: You said today that you had the biggest electoral margin since Ronald Reagan with 304 — 306 electoral votes.
In fact, President Obama got 365 …
QUESTION: President Obama 332, and George H.W. Bush 426 when he won as president.
So, why should Americans trust you …
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, I was told — I was given that information. I don’t know. I was just given it. We had a very, very big margin.
QUESTION: I guess my question is, why should Americans trust you when you have accused the information they’ve received of being fake, when you’re providing information that is…
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I don’t know, I was given that information. I was given — actually, I’ve seen that information around.
But it was a very substantial victory. Do you agree with that?
QUESTION: You’re the president.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: OK. Thank you.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And our own Lisa Desjardins joins us now from the White House.
Lisa, one of the things that he said about General Michael Flynn, that he wasn’t hesitating to fire him, partly because he had a replacement in mind. What is the latest we know about that?
LISA DESJARDINS: Right.
We do have some news, as it seems we can’t get two minutes today without more news. CBS and The Financial Times are reporting that General Roger — Robert Harward, who was the Trump choice to replace Michael Flynn — he’s a U.S. Navy SEAL, former admiral, retired admiral — has declined to take that position.
So, that leaves a major, key position in the White House still to be filled. The White House seems to be searching. We have asked the White House for comment on that. They have not gotten back to us, but the reporting, that Trump’s choice to replace Flynn has declined to take the job.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Lisa, also, at the top of this press conference today was actual news that the president wanted to make, which was the nomination of the replacement candidate for the Department of Labor.
LISA DESJARDINS: Another name, another very important name that was overlooked today.
Alexander Acosta is the man who Mr. Trump would like lead the Labor Department. We know a lot about him. He has quite a pedigree. In fact, he has served himself as a U.S. attorney. He also was the first Hispanic to serve as an assistant attorney general, covering civil rights.
Also, he was on the National Labor Relations Board. That in particular is important, because that’s his main qualification, as far as we know, for this labor job. Currently, he’s the dean of the College of Law at the Florida International University.
He would be first Hispanic on President Trump’s Cabinet. We’re waiting for reaction from Capitol Hill to his name. He is well-known here. And one thing the White House likes, Hari, in particular, is that he’s gone through the confirmation process before the Senate three times.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, one of the things I want to follow up on is something that you were asking the president today. What’s happening, what is the latest with the executive order?
LISA DESJARDINS: Right, such a critical piece of information.
The president, as we played for our audience, said he will have a new order out next week. It seems that this next order is an attempt to almost replicate the past order, but line it up so that it passes some kind of court muster.
And it also seems, reading between the lines — and I have one source indicating that they have not figured out exactly how to do that yet. That’s why it hasn’t been released yet, the White House still designing this executive order.
But pay attention to Mr. Trump’s words today, Hari. He also said that this is extreme vetting, that they had to move up more quickly because of the Ninth Circuit ruling. So this is something they were looking at more long-term that they seem to be incorporating into an executive order next week.
It doesn’t seem like it’s all the way fully baked, but it’s going to be significant when it comes.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Lisa, finally, why did they have this today? Why did they have this press conference, briefly?
LISA DESJARDINS: I think there were a lot of reasons, obviously, just the headlines themselves and the White House struggling to respond to them. They wanted to get the president out himself to do it.
But there is also a sense in this White House that the president does best on his feet and in these kind of very engaging formats. And you could tell, he said himself, as we played, he was enjoying the back-and-forth with the press. So, it was a lot of that.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Lisa Desjardins joining us from the White House, thanks so much.
LISA DESJARDINS: You got it.