US President Donald Trump denounced “criminal” leaks that led to the firing of his top national security adviser at a marathon news conference on Thursday and said his campaign aides had not been in touch with Russian officials before last year’s election.
“Nobody that I know,” he said in the first full-length news conference of his presidency.
Speaking in the East Room of the White House, Trump said the media were “out of control,” interrupted questions and singled out stories with which he disagreed.
He criticized a “bad court” of appeals judges for blocking his refugee and immigration executive order and denied that his White House was paralyzed by chaos and infighting among top advisers.
“This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine,” he said.
Trump said there has never been a president “who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done.”
“I inherited a mess at home and abroad,” and the news media, he said.
Polls show Trump retains support among Republicans, while solid majorities of Americans say he is following through on his promises and is viewed as a strong leader, a Gallup survey showed, although his approval rating is much lower than those of past presidents at the same point in their administrations, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
On Monday, Trump fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, following revelations that Flynn misled US Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia.
The next day, the New York Times reported that multiple Trump advisers were in touch with Russian intelligence advisers during the election campaign.
Trump called the report “fake news” and said he had “nothing to do with Russia.”
Trump said that the Times story centered on inappropriate action by US intelligence agencies and vowed to catch “low-life leakers” of potentially classified information.
“Those are criminal leaks” by people angry about Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton’s loss in the election, he told reporters.
“The people that gave out the information to the press should be ashamed of themselves,” he said, adding that the US Department of Justice is to investigate the disclosures.
Trump defended Flynn’s calls with Russia’s ambassador to the US during the transition period after his November victory.
He said that while he did not tell his adviser to discuss sanctions with the envoy, “I would have directed him if he didn’t do it.”
The president said that while Flynn was “just doing his job,” he was “not happy” that the adviser had misled the vice president.
The president has yet to announce Flynn’s replacement.
Trump vowed to move forward next week on his stalled plans to enact “extreme vetting” measures for people coming to the US.
He said he would sign a “new and very comprehensive order” aimed at addressing legal issues in his initial directive, which had temporarily halted the entire US refugee program and all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations while Washington worked on new vetting procedures.
A federal appeals court rejected the measure and Trump said his administration would be appealing the ruling.
Additional reporting by AFP