President Trump’s 81-minute news conference Wednesday began predictably enough — with a first question tossed to a favored reporter (John Roberts) at a favorite network (Fox News) — before quickly careening into a televised drama that was as much public therapy session as a question-and-answer opportunity with reporters.
By turns fiery and freewheeling, deadly serious and darkly humorous, an animated Trump delivered bluster, falsehoods, insults, breaking news and, as he quipped at one point, more than a hint of his trademark “braggadocios.”
But what was perhaps most remarkable was just how transparent and revealing Trump continues to be, the 45th president of the United States offering glimpses deep into the recesses of his mind as he gleefully took the nation on a tour de force of everything from the fate of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh (uncertain, but to be determined Thursday) to the job security of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein (uncertain, but probably fine for now) to his relationship with the New York Times (uncertain, but definitely tortured).
Asked by Weijia Jiang of CBS News about the three women who have alleged sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh, his embattled nominee to the Supreme Court, the president offered an explanation for his instinctual reaction to side with nearly every powerful, accused man.
“You know why? Because I’ve had a lot of false charges made against me,” Trump said. “It’s happened to me many times. I’ve had many false charges. . . . So when you say does it affect me in terms of my thinking with respect to Judge Kavanaugh, absolutely, because I’ve had it many times.”
(The president then went on to incorrectly mention “four or five” accusers; in fact, he has been accused of unwanted sexual advances by more than a dozen women).
But Trump also publicly underscored his private frustrations with both Kavanaugh and the Senate confirmation process, raising the possibility that he could be persuaded to cut loose his Supreme Court nominee depending on how persuasive one of the accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, is when she testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
“They’re giving the women a major chance to speak. Now, it’s possible I’ll hear that and I’ll say, ‘Hey, I’m changing my mind.’ That is possible,” he said. “They’re going to have a big shot at speaking and making their case. And you know what? I can be persuaded, also. Okay?”
Later, Trump twice offered something of an evergreen admission — well known to White House aides who often compete to be the last person in the room with the president — declaring: “I can always be convinced. . . . I could be convinced of anything.”
The president also addressed his planned meeting at the White House with Rosenstein on Thursday, a one-on-one confab during which Trump is expected to determine whether he plans to fire his deputy attorney general, accept his resignation or allow him to stay on the job. The meeting was scheduled in the wake of a New York Times report alleging that Rosenstein, who oversees the Russia investigation, last year had suggested secretly recording Trump and even invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.
Trump said his preference is to keep the deputy attorney general in his post but added that he might ask to delay the meeting “because I don’t want to do anything that gets in the way of this very important Supreme Court pick.”
“I don’t want it competing and hurting the decision,” Trump said, displaying a former reality-TV star’s visceral understanding that no self-respecting network executive ever lets his top two prime-time dramas compete for top billing.
For a president facing one of the most consequential weeks of his presidency — and fighting for his Supreme Court nominee’s political life — Trump at times seemed blissfully unaware of the stakes, deeply enjoying himself as he bantered with the press corps.
At one point, he polled the crowd on whether he should allow NBC’s Hallie Jackson a follow-up query. “Should I let her ask another question?” he asked. (The verdict in the media-heavy room came back yes, and Jackson pressed Trump on whether he could cite a time when he has given the benefit of the doubt to a female accuser).
Later, the president was still clearly enjoying himself.
“I could be doing this all day long,” he said. “Should we continue for a little while? It doesn’t matter to me.”
Trump’s obsession with the media was also fully on display, as he name-checked a number of outlets, recognized individual reporters with ease, and complimented a Sky News reporter on her company’s recent acquisition by Comcast.
“Congratulations on the purchase,” he said. “I hope you benefited.”
Trump called on two Kurdish reporters, including one whom he prompted, simply: “Yes, please. Mr. Kurd. Go ahead.”
He eagerly egged on a familiar Reuters reporter.
“Hit me with a bad one,” Trump said. “Go ahead. Give it to me.”
And he referred to the Times as if he was talking about a lost flame — “A paper I once loved” — and said that a number of networks would endorse him for president in the 2020 election because he’s good for ratings.
“They’re all going to endorse me because, if they don’t, they’re going out of business,” Trump said. “Can you imagine if you didn’t have me?”
The president’s genial demeanor even extended to a question about the audible laughter he faced this week at the United Nations General Assembly, when he boasted that his administration had accomplished more during its first two years than almost any other in the country’s history.
“They weren’t laughing at me, they were laughing with me,” Trump said. “People had a good time with me. We were doing it together. We had a good time.”
Trump finished his news conference by evoking Elton John, saying that he, like the famous and flamboyant musician, wanted to conclude “with a good one.”
In many ways, Trump conducted the event like a showstopping concert. Every answer was its own distinct track, as if the president had set out to curate, albeit jam-band style, a complete set list, veering from classic riffs to improvised asides.
At one point, the president suggested that during his tenure, he might have the opportunity to appoint more justices to the nation’s highest court. “I’m going to have to get other judges and other Supreme Court judges, possibly,” he said. “I could have a lot of Supreme Court judges, more than two.”
And in those two, tossed-aside sentences remained the whisper of an unspoken promise — the sort of encore performance that both Trump and Sir Elton John so love.