WASHINGTON – After three relatively anodyne joint press conferences with foreign leaders in recent weeks, President Donald Trump reverted to form Wednesday during an appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: disjointed, inflammatory and at moments barely coherent.
Trump almost off-handedly walked away from two decades of policy regarding Israeli-Palestinian relations, answered a question about anti-Semitism by bragging about his Electoral College victory, and undermined his own press secretary’s explanation about the departure of his national security advisor.
All of that in 18 minutes, and in response to questions from only friendly media outlets.
“I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said, answering a question about his administration’s commitment to a separate Palestinian state apart from Israel, which has been U.S. policy since the Clinton administration.
When he was asked by an Israeli journalist about the rise of anti-Semitic acts in the United States, Trump began recounting his Nov. 8 win.
“Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had ― 316 Electoral College votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right?” he asked Netanyahu. “There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.”
Trump finished his answer by pointing out that he has many friends who are Jewish, as are his daughter, son-in-law and three of his grandchildren.
But Trump’s most unusual response may have been to a question about the 2015 agreement limiting Iran’s ability to manufacture or stockpile nuclear material. He answered by defending his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, who resigned Monday.
“Michael Flynn ― General Flynn ― is a wonderful man. I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it, the fake media in many cases. And I think it’s really a sad thing that he was treated so badly,” Trump said. “I think in addition to that from intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked, it’s criminal action. It’s a criminal act and it’s been going on for a long time before me but now it’s really going on. People are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton. I think it’s very, very unfair what’s happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated and the documents and papers that were illegally ― I stress that, illegally leaked. Very, very unfair.”
Not only did the answer fail to mention the Iran deal ― which Trump in his opening remarks had called “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen” ― but his explanation of Flynn’s departure late Monday night completely contradicted his press secretary, Sean Spicer. Spicer had spent the better part of Tuesday’s press briefing repeatedly claiming that Trump himself had fired Flynn after losing trust in him for discussing sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador prior to Trump taking office, then claiming to Trump and others that he had not.
That information became public over the weekend in a pair of Washington Post stories that said the former acting attorney general disclosed Flynn’s intercepted communications to the White House three weeks ago.
Under Trump’s explanation, it was the publicizing of those Russian contacts, not the contacts themselves, that somehow caused Flynn to lose his job.
Spicer did not respond to a Huffington Post query about that discrepancy.
Wednesday’s Trump news conference used the same backdrop as the ones he held with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ― the ornate East Room at the White House, with its chandeliers and gold-colored drapes. In each, Trump stuck to brief, relatively harmless responses that actually offered the suggestion to some observers that he was starting to take the responsibilities of his job more seriously.
Wednesday’s affair was more like Trump on the campaign trail last year, or from the sole extended news conference he has held since his November election, in which he used the forums to brag about his successes while attacking political opponents and the news media.