President Donald Trump said Thursday that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn “wasn’t wrong” for taking the actions that led to his resignation and blamed the media for reporting on it. He repeatedly denied any connection to Russia and said he was not aware of any staff on his campaign who spoke to Russian officials before the election.
“What he did wasn’t wrong, what he did in terms of the information he saw,” Trump told reporters during a White House press conference, responding to a question on Flynn’s resignation. “What was wrong was the way that other people, including yourselves in this room, were given that information.”
Trump said that he was “not happy” with information leaked to the press by unnamed sources.
“That was classified information that was given illegally,” Trump said. “That’s the real problem. You can talk all you want about Russia, which is all a fake news, fabricated deal to try and make up for the loss of the Democrats, and the press plays right into it.”
Trump said that he spoke to “a couple of the people that were supposedly involved” with Russian officials.
“They know nothing about it. They weren’t in Russia, they never made a phone call to Russia, they never received a phone call,” Trump said. “It’s all fake news. All fake news.”
Trump called Flynn “a wonderful man” on Wednesday during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and blamed the press for treating Flynn “so badly.”
Trump’s comments stood in stark contrast to his spokesman’s explanation for Flynn’s resignation. On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that Trump asked Flynn to resign “based on a trust issue” rather than any media reports.
Flynn resigned on Monday, days after reports revealed that he spoke about sanctions in a call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump was sworn in.
This contradicted members of Trump’s administration, including Pence, who previously denied that Flynn and the Russian ambassador discussed sanctions.
During Thursday’s press conference, Trump said that he did not direct Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak, but that it “certainly would have been OK” with him.
“That’s his job,” Trump said. “You know, I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn’t do it, OK?”
Trump again called Russia “fake news” and insisted that he has no business connections there.
“Speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia,” Trump said.
“Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?” another reporter asked Trump during Thursday’s press conference.
“Well, I told you. General Flynn obviously was dealing, that’s one person, but he was dealing, as he should have been—” Trump began.
“During the election?” the reporter asked.
“No, nobody that I know of,” Trump replied.
“You’re not aware of any contacts during the course of the election?” the reporter pressed.
“How many times do I have to answer this question?” Trump asked.
“Can you just say yes or no on it?” the reporter said.
“Russia is a ruse,” Trump replied. “I have nothing to do with Russia.”
The New York Times and CNN reported on Tuesday, citing U.S. officials, that members of Trump’s campaign staff made repeated contact with Russian officials before the 2016 election.