And he defended both Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, suggesting that the Russian strongman deserves an invite to future G-7 summits and that the North Korean dictator is an honorable man who will not let Trump down.
The U.S. president’s news conference here was presaged by an aide saying Trump would answer anything if the first two questions stayed on topic. Trump seemed more interested when the questions went off topic — and for 68 minutes in a seaside auditorium, he offered a lens into his unorthodox mind, a range of false or dubious statements, and the myriad ways he has changed the presidency in 31 months.
He attacked former president Barack Obama’s intellect while defending Putin for annexing part of Crimea — a move that drove Russia’s expulsion from what was then called the G-8. To many world leaders, Putin’s move was illegal and had nothing to do with Obama. To Trump, it showed that his predecessor was a sucker and that criticizing him (along with former vice president “Sleepy Joe” Biden, in Trump’s words) was fair banter. He veered into a similar diatribe on Obama not enforcing a “red line” in Syria, though he was not queried on the topic.
“President Putin outsmarted President Obama,” Trump said, calling it “very embarrassing” for Obama. The realpolitik of the world, he said, meant Russia should be in the room at future summits. And he said he would like to invite Putin next year to his golf course, claiming without evidence that other leaders agreed with his predilection — even as they said otherwise.
Asked why he continued to falsely blame Obama for the annexation of Crimea, as he did almost a dozen times Monday, the president suggested that he knew the black journalist asking the question, Yamiche Alcindor of PBS News, had an ulterior motive. “I know you like President Obama,” he said, without saying how he knew that.
“I’m not blaming him,” he said, before blaming him extensively because “a lot of bad things happened.”
Trump admitted no blunder in his escalating trade fight with China, even as his flummoxing moves have rattled the markets and his own aides.
In four days, Trump imposed new tariffs on China, called the country’s president an “enemy,” admitted “second thoughts” on the escalating trade war, reversed course hours later to say he only wished he had raised the tariffs higher, and then vowed a deal would be coming soon — because China wants one desperately, in the president’s telling. Doesn’t that make it harder, a reporter asked, to make a deal?
“Sorry, it’s how I negotiate,” he said. “It’s been very successful over the years.”
His assertion that China is itching to strike a compromise has been contradicted by multiple reports and Chinese officials. When Fox News reporter John Roberts expressed skepticism, Trump forged ahead by saying the Chinese had been working behind the scenes.
Trump claimed to have gotten two phone calls on Sunday night from high-ranking Chinese officials seeking to negotiate a trade deal. “High-level calls,” he said. Chinese government officials said Monday that they were unaware of any such calls. When Trump asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to back him up, Mnuchin would only say there had been “communication,” avoiding the word “call.” The treasury secretary quickly interjected again Monday afternoon to add “communications.”
Trump suggested that within weeks he would be willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “Now, is that based on fact or based on gut? It’s based on gut,” he said. He added: “Maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t. I say it all the time about everything.”
Although he said French President Emmanuel Macron asked his permission to invite Iran’s foreign minister to the G-7, Macron said that he simply “informed” Trump in advance of his plan and that it was Macron’s idea alone.
At length, he boasted about his private properties. Trump refused to divest, unlike many of his predecessors, and has profited from an influx of Republican fundraisers and other political events. Questioned about the propriety of profiting from next year’s summit of world leaders, he batted down any concern.
“I don’t want to make money,” he said. “I don’t care about making money.”
His resort in Miami, he said, would make a terrific locale for the G-7 because of its bungalows, proximity to the airport, large ballrooms and substantial parking.
“Biggest ballrooms in Florida,” he said.
He offered an unproven claim, as he has done before, that the presidency has cost him $3 billion to $5 billion. He then moved on to praise his golf courses in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Seeming to change course, he moved into a soliloquy about the nomenclature of Europe.
“What’s England? What’s happening with England? They don’t use it too much anymore,” Trump says he told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
He described both Iran and North Korea in terms of their real estate potential, saying the countries would want to deal with Trump because they sit on valuable, or gentrifying, properties.
“A location that’s a little rough neighborhood,” he said of Iran, in the middle of the war-torn Middle East. “But eventually it’s going to be a beautiful neighborhood.”
He showed no concern that the North Korean dictator had violated U.N. resolutions by firing missiles, instead saying that Kim would not personally disappoint Trump. In a long-winded answer, Trump nodded to his wife, Melania, and claimed she had gotten to know Kim Jong Un very well; the White House later acknowledged that Kim and the U.S. first lady have never met.
He also jousted with journalists. When a French reporter charged at the podium without being called on, he pointed to Jim Acosta of CNN and grinned. “She’s worse than you!” he said, before explaining that his wife likes French wine.
When Hallie Jackson, an NBC reporter, stood up, Trump said, “Here we go,” before repeatedly telling her she would get only one question.
Even as he spent several days on Twitter decrying the “Fake and Disgusting News,” he seemed much more enthusiastic once Macron left the stage and he was able to hold forth alone.
“You can’t say I don’t give you access,” he said.
Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report.