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Trump claims White House is ‘fine-tuned machine’

Anita Kumar and Franco Ordonez
McClatchy

Washington — President Donald Trump on Thursday sought to reset his young and chaotic presidency with a lengthy news conference in which he attacked the media, bragged about his campaign win and listed a dozen accomplishments from securing the border to creating jobs.

U.S. President Donald Trump calls on a reporter during a news conference announcing Alexander Acosta as the new Labor Secretary nominee in the East Room at the White House on February 16, 2017 in Washington, DC.

“I turn on the TV, open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite,” Trump said. “This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.”

Trump boasted of his successes despite a series of setbacks that include an appeals court’s rejection of his travel ban, the forced resignation of his national security adviser, the withdrawal of his labor secretary nominee, and a seemingly endless stream of leaks from the White House and federal agencies that placed Trump or his administration in a bad light.

“This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country,” he said. “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.”

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

Transcript: Donald Trump’s news conference at WH

Trump supporters cheer his combative stance with media

Trump revealed few new details on the firing of his national security adviser, though he was peppered with questions about Michael Flynn and his administration’s connections to Russia.

Trump denied reports that his campaign team had contacts with Russian intelligence officials and told reporters that Flynn had been fired because of what he’d told Vice President Mike Pence, but that Trump didn’t have a problem with Flynn talking to Russian officials about sanctions.

“I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn’t do it. OK?” Trump said.

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

However, a White House official said late Thursday that Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a former Navy SEAL, had rejected the job, largely because of family concerns.

He called the media’s focus on Russia “a ruse” and said biased coverage has hurt the political climate needed for a positive deal with that nuclear power.

“I don’t know that we’re going to make a deal. I don’t know,” Trump said.

“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.”

Trump 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.”

Trump told the dozens of reporters in the packed East Room that he was taking his message directly to the American people because the news media were misleading the public.

“The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people, a tremendous disservice,” Trump said. “We have to talk about it. We have to find out what’s going on because the press, honestly, is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.”

Trump took questions from 17 reporters after a rambling opening statement during a 77-minute hastily assembled news conference in the East Room of the White House. The event initially was designed to nominate his labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, who would be the first Hispanic in his Cabinet.

But that purpose was soon overshadowed by the rough-and-tumble question-and-answer period that followed in which Trump bragged again about his Electoral College win over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“Tomorrow, they will say, ‘Donald Trump rants and raves at the press,’” he said. “I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time doing it.”

At one point, Trump looked around the room for what he called a “friendly reporter.” He eventually called on a reporter from Ami Magazine, which caters to the Orthodox Jewish community, who tried to ask a question about the rise in anti-Semitic acts since he was elected.

Trump thought the reporter was questioning the president’s own views, however, and called the question “insulting” and told him to sit down.

At another point, he told an African-American reporter for American Urban Radio Networks who asked about inner cities that she should set up a meeting for him with the Congressional Black Caucus. “Are they friends of yours?” he asked.

In one of the more tense moments, Trump took aim at one news outlet in particular, CNN, which he feels has covered him too harshly.

“The public gets it, you know,” he said. “Look, when I go to rallies, they turn around, they start screaming at CNN. They want to throw their placards at CNN, you know.”

When another reporter asked about the work of his wife, Melania, he said “Now that’s what I call a nice question.”

Trump listed his accomplishments from his four weeks in office: a new council with Canada to promote women business leaders and entrepreneurs; a yet-to-be-released plan to combat the Islamic State terrorist group; a rebuilding of the military; securing the border; withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement; eliminating regulations; a plan to destroy criminal cartels coming into the United States with drugs; and the revival of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

“I’m keeping my promises to the American people,” he said. “These are campaign promises.”

Trump announced he would issue a new executive order next week “tailored” to a federal appeals court decision that blocked his travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations.

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.

He also struck a softer note when it came to protections for those immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. On the campaign trail, Trump had promised to repeal President Barack Obama’s deferred action program, known as DACA, that blocked their deportations and gave them two-year work permits.

“You have these incredible kids, in many cases, not in all cases,” he said. “In some of the cases they’re having DACA and they’re gang members and they’re drug dealers, too,” he said. “But you have some absolutely incredible kids ... they were brought here in such a way, it’s a very, very tough subject.”

Associated Press contributed.