President Donald Trump amped up his rhetoric against the media at a White House press conference on Tuesday, calling some outlets “corrupt” while having a testy exchange with a reporter for Reuters.
The press conference was with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, but the central questions were naturally focused on the unfolding whistleblower complaint and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s launch of an impeachment inquiry of Trump. The focus of that investigation is on a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for Reuters, asked Trump what he wanted the Ukrainian president to do about the Bidens.
Trump didn’t initially answer the question, and when Mason tried to ask it again, Trump said, “Are you talking to me?”
“Yes, it is just a followup of what I just asked you, sir.”
Trump replied, “We have the president of Finland. Ask him a question.”
“I have one. I just wanted to follow up on the one I asked you,” Mason replied.
Trump then said, “Did you hear me? Ask him a question. I have given you a long answer. Ask this gentleman a question. Don’t be rude.”
“No sir. I don’t want to be rude. I just wanted you to have a chance to answer the question I just asked you,” Mason said.
“I answered everything,” Trump replied. “It’s a whole hoax, and you know who is playing into the hoax, people like you, and the fake news media that we have in this country, and I say in many cases, the corrupt news media. Because you are corrupt. Much of the media in this country is not just fake, it’s corrupt. And you have some very fine people too. Great journalists. Great reporters. But to a large extent, it is corrupt and it is fake.”
Mason did ask the Finnish president a question, but Trump answered it.
After the press conference ended, Mason told Deadline that he was just trying to get an answer to his question. Other reporters came up afterward and complimented him for keeping his cool and remaining calm and polite during the exchange.
Trump has berated reporters at previous press conferences, but the atmosphere in the East Room was tense. As CNN cut to Jake Tapper, he said, “And you just saw there a president in clear crisis.”
Later, CNN’s Anderson Cooper said that the press conference was “even when judged against past appearances, unlike any we have seen before.” There were several other examples earlier in the day of Trump’s amped up angry rhetoric. Earlier in the day, Trump said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) “couldn’t carry [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s] ‘blank’ strap, do you understand that?” In the Oval Office sitting next to Niinistö, he declined to use the word “jock.”
Yet less than an hour earlier, Trump tweeted his response to a press conference that Schiff had with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Bullshit.”
Mason is the former president of the White House Correspondents Association. This was the first time that he had such a testy exchange with Trump.
Trump did praise The New York Times during the press conference, having just been handed a printout of a report Schiff had known about the whistleblower’s concerns before the complaint was filed. The Times reported that the whistleblower first approached an aide to the House Intelligence Committee, which Schiff chairs, and the aide suggested that the whistleblower get an attorney and file a formal complaint.
When Fox News’ White House correspondent John Roberts asked Trump about the story, the president thanked Roberts and said, “I love that question. It shows that Schiff is a fraud.”
“I give a lot of respect to The New York Times for putting it out,” he said.
Schiff wrote on Twitter, “When a whistleblower seeks guidance, staff advises them to get counsel and go to an [inspector general]. That’s what they’re supposed to do. Unlike a president pressing a foreign leader to dig up dirt on a political opponent. That’s not what a president is supposed to do. And we all know it.”