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Donald Trump’s raving attempt at shifting blame an autocrat’s outing

Washington: At the end of a week in which he misplaced his national security adviser, and found a replacement who bolted before his feet were nailed to the floor, Donald Trump declared the chaos he calls an administration “is running like a fine-tuned machine”.

And to the extent that it’s not quite that, he’s used a near-80 minute press conference to blame Barack Obama. Forgetting to acknowledge his predecessor’s bequests of a growing economy, with low inflation and unemployment he became all “woe-is-me”.

“To be honest, I inherited a mess, it’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess,” Trump said.

Blame it all on Obama – jobs going overseas; low wages; Chicago crime; terrorism; the Middle East; North Korea. Nothing to do with this president.

His failed executive order on migrants and refugees? Blame that on the courts.

And another thing, even though he was taking questions from reporters in the press briefing room, he wanted it known that he was bypassing the “dishonest media”, to speak directly to the American people about the “incredible progress” his administration has made.

Waxing from combative to meandering, this was an autocrat’s outing – Vladimir Putin’s Washington branch office. And it wasn’t until he got into bantering with the reporters, seemingly an attempt to rekindle the rah-rah of his campaign rallies, that he came alive.

And wouldn’t you know, Trump wanted to talk about Russia … on and on and on and on and on – especially about the US intelligence services investigating his Russian links and very especially about the media reporting leaked accounts of the US intelligence services investigating his Russian links.

“I turn on the TV, open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos, chaos,” he said after seemingly acknowledging leaked accounts of backstabbing, power-struggles, childish turf wars, factional feuding and endless crawling for his affection and approval.

“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.”

After one of the most tumultuous first months of any administration, beset by approval ratings that are computed as a negative because more disapprove of his performance than approve, Trump’s lap of honour was a bizarre, head-spinning collision between fact and fiction.

Trump had to let national security adviser Michael Flynn go because he had been revealed as a liar and before Flynn’s replacement had bolted, Trump told the press conference that he had no qualms because “I have somebody that I think will be outstanding for the position”.

Oops – he got away.

Given that Trump is an accomplished liar, it was fascinating to hear him discuss truth as though it was a concept he understood.

Here’s how he explained Flynn’s demise: “He didn’t tell the Vice President of the United States the facts,” Trump said. “And then he didn’t remember. And that just wasn’t acceptable to me.”

Apart from lying, Flynn is seen in many quarters to have acted inappropriately, if not illegally in discussing the Obama administration’s sanctions on Moscow with the Russian ambassador to Washington; and to have broken the law by lying about the conversation to the FBI.

But it turns out that Trump was worried only about the lies, not about citizen Flynn going to the Russians during the transition from one administration to the next.

“No, I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn’t do it.”

The President became irritable as reporters hammered questions on reports – in The New York Times and on CNN – on extensive communications between his campaign and people in Russia – including intelligence agents.

Seemingly attempting to step between the “yes” or “no” answer demanded by the reporters, Trump dissembled: he had personally had no contact, and he was not aware of such contacts during the campaign.

“Russia is a ruse,” he claimed. “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.”

Trump claimed that no president before him had done so much in such a short time, but he was still able to squeeze in a dozen mentions of Hillary Clinton; and a couple for Obama too – in each case, contempt for Obamacare and for his attempted reset of relations with Moscow.

And in the coming days and weeks there would be all kinds of excitement – the Justice Department was investigating the flood of leaks from his administration; by the middle of next week he’ll have a new executive order to replace the botched rollout of his migration crackdown; there would be a replacement for Obamacare by mid-March; and, not far behind that, his planned tax reform package.

Getting very jocular, the President condemned many before him, either for their “fake” news reports or their “very fake” news reports. And at one stage he insisted: “I’m not ranting and raving – I love this. I’m having a good time doing this.”

And that’s about when the porkies started.

On claiming that he had the biggest margin in the electoral college vote since Ronald Reagan, some of the reporters were rude enough to point out, ahem, that Obama, Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush had outperformed him. Avoiding his administration claim of the use of “alternative facts”, Trump sought protection behind faulty facts.

“I was given that information. Well, I don’t know, I was given that information.”

He went on at length about a meeting he had attempted to have with Democratic and African American congressman Elijah Cummings, claiming that Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer had blocked Cummings from attending. To which Cummings responded in a statement: “I have no idea why President Trump would make up a story about me like he did today.”

The conference was an intriguing window into Trump’s inner showman trying to break free – but there was also a sense that confirms his reported [leaked] displeasure with the briefing performances of his highly strung spokesman Sean Spicer.

In that he was showing Spicer and, he would have hoped, tricking the country into the same belief, that this is how you move the story on, jump the rails of a bad news cycle by attempting to create a good one.

At one stage, Trump went deep into the weeks in an analysis of the faults of cable news – which is to say they are not sufficiently reverential towards the 45th President. And suddenly he took a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta, the reporter he attacked and ordered to be silent in a January press conference.

Trump wanted to critique various shows on CNN, but Acosta wanted an answer to his question on the damage Trump might be inflicting on the First Amendment with all his nonsense talk of “fake” news.

Trump cut him, wanting to know if he was related to Trump’s newfound nominee for labour secretary, Alexander Acosta.

Trump: “You’re not related to our new … “

Acosta: “I am not related. I do like the sound of Secretary Acosta, I must say.”

Trump: “I looked. You know, I looked at that name. I said: ‘Wait a minute. Is there any relation there? Alex Acosta?’ They said, ‘No, sir.’ I said, ‘do me a favour – go back and check the family tree’.”

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