Over the course of nearly 80 minutes Thursday, President Donald Trump berated the press, boasted of his electoral victory, denied that his aides had contact with Russia during the election and claimed that he is the “the least anti-Semitic person that you have seen in your entire life.”
The impromptu press conference in the White House East Room was a classic Trumpian spectacle: Loud, chaotic, and, perhaps, designed to distract. But a handful of meaningful moments during the event escaped widespread scrutiny.
Here are a few moments from Thursday’s press conference that deserved more attention than they received:
Trump bragged that a prominent “Never Trump” billionaire visited the White House.
Paul Singer, the billionaire hedge fund manager, backed Marco Rubio during the Republican primaries and said publicly that Trump’s anti-trade views risked bringing about a global depression. Singer donated $1 million, according to CNBC, to Our Principles PAC, an anti-Trump fund.
But after Trump’s electoral victory, the network reported, Singer attended a fundraising breakfast for him in New York City.
After Singer’s White House visit Thursday, Trump took his change of tone as a sign of broader national unity.
“As you know, Paul was very much involved with the anti-Trump, or, as they say, ‘Never Trump,’” he said. “And Paul just left and he’s given us his total support. And it’s all about unification. We’re unifying the party, and hopefully we’re going to be able to unify the country.”
NBC News’ Peter Alexander Caught Trump In a blatant falsehood.
Trump and his administration have bragged before about winning “the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.” That is not true. But NBC News’ Peter Alexander confronted the President over the false claim on live television.
“Why should Americans trust you when you’re misrepresenting information?” Alexander asked. Watch:
Trump complained about the leaked details of a reportedly business-related phone call.
The President said Thursday on Twitter that he would shine a “spotlight” on “low-life leakers!”
And during Thursday’s press conference, he bemoaned a series of recent leaks of classified information. However, Trump also mentioned leaks surrounding his “dealing with Argentina.” There has been no sensitive government information leaked about the President’s contacts with Argentina, save one conversation he had — in which his daughter Ivanka was also present — reportedly about his business in the country, with Argentinian President Mauricio Macri. The call was reportedly facilitated by a business partner of Trump’s in the country.
A prominent Argentinian journalist, Jorge Lanata, said on television following the call: “Macri called him. This still hasn’t emerged but Trump asked for them to authorize a building he’s constructing in Buenos Aires, it wasn’t just a geopolitical chat.” Both leaders denied they discussed business.
Trump told CNN’s Jim Acosta: “Ask Jeff Zucker how he got his job, OK?”
CNN is a perennial target of Trump’s, and the President confronted CNN’s Jim Acosta during Thursday’s briefing. But his reference to Zucker, the network’s president, refers to a recommendation Trump reportedly gave on Zucker’s behalf in 2012.
At the time, according the Wall Street Journal, Trump told Time Warner’s Phil Kent that Zucker would make a good leader for the CNN. Kent hired Zucker shortly afterward. But, according to the Journal, Zucker had been in contention for the job before Trump’s recommendation. Also noteworthy: Zucker was at the helm of NBC in 2004, when Trump got his start as the host of “The Apprentice.”
Trump announced that he instructed the Justice Department to look into leaks of classified information.
While going after and prosecuting government leakers isn’t unusual, especially in former President Barack Obama’s administration, such a public announcement from the President is.
Brookings Institution scholar Susan Hennessy told the New York Times Thursday that Trump’s announcement risks overtly politicizing law enforcement.
“The fear is that these leak investigations will be used as a form of political retaliation” against leakers who have personally damaged Trump, she said. “We don’t want this to become a political witch hunt.”