Donald Trump’s press conference was a press confrontation
NEW YORK – President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday compared a U.S. intelligence report to Nazi Germany. He referred to himself in the third person. And he heaped insults on multiple news organizations, calling one a “failing pile of garbage.”
At his first press conference in six months, Mr. Trump, a former reality television star, exhibited the showman’s flair that helped propel him to the presidency.
But in the process, the president-elect resorted to a dizzying array of hyperbole, falsehoods and contradictions as he squared off against the press in a brown marble atrium at Trump Tower in New York.
The hour-long press confrontation raised as many questions as it answered, especially around Mr. Trump’s plan to distance himself from his business empire.
And it left little doubt that the relationship between Mr. Trump and the press will be fraught with tension over the next four years. At one point, in the most heated back-and-forth, Mr. Trump refused to take a question from a CNN reporter. “You are fake news,” he said, and moved on.
The news conference got off to a contentious start.
Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, and Vice-President Elect Mike Pence, set the tone from the start by criticizing news reports that Russia had compiled a dossier of harmful information about Mr. Trump during the campaign.
The hacked information on Mr. Trump, which Buzzfeed and CNN reported had been included in an intelligence report presented to the president-elect and President Obama last week, has not been verified by U.S. intelligence officials.
Spicer called the news stories a “sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks.” Pence said the reporting was an effort to “delegitimize this election and demean the incoming administration.”
Mr. Trump followed suit. In his opening remarks, he thanked “a lot of the news organizations here today” for choosing not to publish the story.
But then, in response to the first question of the press conference, from Fox News’ John Roberts, Mr. Trump’s tone shifted.
“It’s all fake news, it’s phony stuff, it didn’t happen. It was gotten by opponents of mine,” Mr. Trump said, adding that they were “sick people” who “put that crap together.”
Up until then, Mr. Trump seemed willing to give the media some leeway. He allowed a reporter to interrupt and ask a second question on whether or not he planned to release his tax returns after taking office. (“I don’t think so,” Mr. Trump said flatly).
The president-elect and his team also satisfied the media’s hunger for news by putting out the most detailed plan yet on how Mr. Trump would handle his business ventures as president.
An attorney for Mr. Trump said he would turn over operation of the Trump Organization to his two adult sons, and take other steps to avoid an appearance of conflicts of interest.
Mr. Trump also made other news, including the announcement that he plans to nominate a Supreme Court justice within two weeks of his inauguration, though he hasn’t made good on some of his pledges in the past. (The press conference itself was supposed to take place last month, but was delayed by several weeks).
But as the press conference continued, and Mr. Trump was repeatedly asked about Russia’s interference in the election, his patience began to wear out.
Mr. Trump called the news stories about the leaked dossier on his past a “disgrace,” adding, “I think it’s something that Nazi Germany would have done, and did do.”
When CNN’s Jim Acosta attempted a follow-up question, Mr. Trump cut him off. “Not you. Not you. Your organization is terrible,” he said. As Acosta tried to respond, Mr. Trump abruptly ended the exchange. “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news,” he said.
Feuding between Mr. Trump and a major news organization isn’t new. During his election campaign, Mr. Trump attacked the media often, complaining that the coverage of him wasn’t fair or accurate. CNN became a favorite punching bag, as did the New York Times.
Critics argued that Mr. Trump, a shrewd manipulator of the press, was creating the media firestorms to draw attention away from negative news stories about his campaign.
Wednesday’s press conference made clear that Mr. Trump won’t abandon the strategy once he enters the White House.
As it wound down, Mr. Trump, now in full command of the show, swatted down another reporter’s follow-up question. The final exchange was telling.
A reporter asked Mr. Trump if he or anyone on his campaign had made contact with Russian officials during the election, and what message the president-elect had for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Trump gave a pat response about his relationship with Russia, but ignored the first part of the question. Then he disappeared into an elevator, surrounded by a phalanx of security guards.