Trump Decries 'Fake News' Stories About Aides' Ties To Russia

8 hours ago
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Today President Trump held his first full news conference since his inauguration. It was wide-ranging. It lasted more than an hour. And at times, it was pretty tense after a week of headlines about setbacks, controversy and chaos surrounding the White House. Today the president pushed back.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I mean it's - story after story after story is bad. I won. I won. And the other thing - chaos. There's zero chaos. We are running - this is a fine-tuned machine.

MCEVERS: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson was at the news conference and joins us now from the White House. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.

MCEVERS: So this news conference was announced with just about an hour's notice. What prompted it?

LIASSON: Well, ostensibly it was to announce his new labor secretary nominee, but that was really just a blip. I think it was about showing that he could do this. He stood there for almost 80 minutes. He took tough questions not just from friendly reporters. I think he wanted to seize back the narrative and defend his administration's accomplishments.

And of course, as he often does, he provided his own real-time color commentary and tried to anticipate his next day's box office and work the refs all at the same time. Here's a little bit of that.

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TRUMP: 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 I'm not ranting and raving. I love this. I'm having a good time doing it.

LIASSON: This is the Donald Trump we got to know during the campaign. He was defensive. He was frustrated. He was aggrieved. He was combative. But he was also funny and charming like he was with the press during all those years in New York as a fixture in the tabloids. I am told he was pretty pleased with his performance today and that he is now in high spirits.

MCEVERS: When the news up till now has been all about Russia. I mean let's start with the resignation of Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn. What'd he say about that?

LIASSON: Well, I got the first question, and I asked him about why he let Flynn go. He said it was because of what he did or didn't tell the vice president. Then I asked him why he had kept Vice President Pence in the dark for almost two weeks. Pence found out about Flynn misleading him from the media. And Trump seemed to say the reason he kept him in the dark was that he just didn't think what Flynn did was that big a deal.

The president also addressed stories alleging contacts between people associated with his campaign and Russian intelligence officials. He said, the leaks are real, but the news is fake. He said, I have nothing to do with Russia. And he was repeatedly asked about those contacts between his campaign officials and Russian officials, and he finally said, not that I know of.

MCEVERS: It wasn't all Russia and Flynn. What other news did the president make today?

LIASSON: He said that there will be an Obamacare replacement by mid-March. He's going to have a new executive order revising the travel ban next week that will be tailored to address the objections by the appeals court.

MCEVERS: Any other moments stand out to you?

LIASSON: Yeah, there were so many of them. There was one when he was called out about using inaccurate numbers about how his Electoral College win compared to past presidents. He was asked why Americans should trust him when he keeps on providing information that isn't accurate. And he had to back off of that. He just said, well, I was given that information. And what that shows you is when a president stands up and opens himself up to real questions from the media and follow-ups, he can retreat.

He was also asked twice about anti-Semitic incidents - swastikas on Jewish centers, things like that - that were committed by his supporters sometimes in his name. And he blamed those incidents on his opponents. Here's what he said.

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TRUMP: They'll do signs, and they'll do drawings that are inappropriate. It won't be my people. It will be the people on the other side to anger people like you.

LIASSON: So not taking any responsibility for that at all.

MCEVERS: Now, before I let you go, Mara, I mean you were there in the room, like you said - I mean any takeaways about, like, the mood there? What was the feeling in the East Room?

LIASSON: Well, I don't think we've ever seen a presidential press conference performance like this one. It was really extraordinary. He pretty much put himself on the couch, inadvertently or not. I think that he will get a lot of credit for doing this. I think it will thrill his supporters. I think if he was trying to show nervous Republicans on Capitol Hill that he's in control, that the dysfunction they've been complaining about from the White House isn't real, as he said, we're like a well-oiled machine. Whether he truly calmed the waters or not after a chaotic first month remains to be seen.

MCEVERS: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you very much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.