Even presidents aren’t immune to some holiday stress. With a bruising week nearly over, President Donald Trump sought to let off steam Friday.
From the moment he stepped onto the frozen White House South Lawn with a frown just after 9 a.m., Trump maintained a steady flow of indignation, lashing out at the Russia investigation, urban violence, unchecked immigration, the news media and decisions made by his predecessor Barack Obama, all within a single two-hour span.
“It’s a shame what happened with the FBI,” Trump told reporters gathered in scattered flurries to watch him depart aboard Marine One. “It is very sad.”
“They’re spending millions and millions of dollars,” he bemoaned of the special counsel’s Russia investigators, which have been steadily interviewing members of his staff over the past several months. “There is absolutely no collusion.”
“What the hell is going on in Chicago?” he asked later in an apparently unscripted aside during remarks at a law enforcement graduation at the FBI National Academy on Friday in Quantico, Virginia. “What the hell is happening there?”
“There’s the fake news back there,” he said toward the end of his remarks, pointing to a camera riser at the back of the room. “Look, everybody.”
The unleashing capped a week that brought new anxiety for the almost-one-year President. His preferred candidate in Alabama’s special election lost in an upset defeat, lending new fuel to Trump’s fears that his political influence may be waning. To Trump’s pleasure, lawmakers appear on the cusp of passing historic tax cuts. But final passage isn’t certain, inserting a dose of tension into the evergreen-bedecked West Wing.
It’s added up to a trying moment for a President still searching for a path out of a controversy-laden year. Trump — who has been anxiously phoning Republican leaders on Capitol Hill for updates on the tax bill — has told his aides he wants a victory lap if the measure is approved. Fond of the White House Christmas decorations, he’s eyed the East Room as a possible venue for a signing ceremony.
That looks more and more likely. Friday, holdout GOP Sens. Marco Rubio and Bob Corker said they would back the bill.
As he waits, he’s been awash in finger-pointing following Tuesday’s stunning Republican loss in Alabama. People who have spoken to the President say he took Roy Moore’s loss surprisingly well. But in the days since, he’s been flooded with advice from friends and advisers to alternately revamp his political operation, disavow onetime chief strategist Steve Bannon or renew his attacks on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
‘I have nothing to do with Russia, everybody knows it’
Through all that, some aides and advisers insist Trump’s mood remains upbeat. But his public face on Friday was a not a happy one.
“When you look at those documents and how they’ve done that is very, very disgraceful,” he said of the FBI on the South Lawn. “You have a lot of angry people that are seeing it.”
A White House official said the “documents” to which he was referring were the text messages exchanged by two top FBI officials lampooning then-candidate Trump in the summer of 2016. After details of the messages came to light this week, conservative media outlets — including Fox News, Trump’s regular soundtrack — have spent hours using them to discredit the FBI’s investigation into Russian election meddling.
Trump repeated those talking points on Friday.
“I have nothing to do with Russia, everybody knows it,” he said. “That was a Democrat hoax.”
Minutes later, he conspicuously kept the door open to pardoning his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation: “I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet,” Trump said. “We’ll see what happens. Let’s see.”
Trump’s attorney in the White House, Ty Cobb, later said there was “no consideration being given to pardoning Michael Flynn at the White House.”
But Trump’s comment, which did not rule out such a move, underscored the persistent possibility that the President could find a way to short-circuit the Russia investigation, which some of his outside advisers and friends have advocated.
Awkward visit to FBI
In a strange fate of scheduling, Trump was destined next for the FBI Academy in Quantico. The speech, which had been scheduled for weeks, was delivered to a graduating class of local police officers who have completed a training session at the agency’s facilities.
During the hour-long ceremony, Trump was seated alongside his attorney general Jeff Sessions, whom he blames for aggravating the Russia matter by recusing himself from the investigation, and Chris Wray, the FBI’s director. Trump did not repeat his harsh criticism of the FBI during his remarks, but his agitation was readily apparent.
He lambasted the nation’s immigration system, declaring that countries “give us their worst people” and mocking a visa lottery system by saying immigrants are picked from a “bin.”
And pointing to a reporters in the back of the room, he repeated his criticism of the news media.
It was a greatest hits reel of Trump’s red-meat conservatism, delivered inside a federal law enforcement facility rather than a campaign venue. His audience rewarded him with laughter and applause.
‘We got 306’
Trump was still in a valedictory mood after making a quick jaunt in his helicopter to a Marine Corps squadron facility nearby.
Regaling helicopter pilots there of his election win, Trump nevertheless insisted the deck had been stacked against him by establishment politicians.
“Remember they used to say, ‘There is no way for Trump to get to 270.’ Remember?” he said. “Over and over again. That’s called voter suppression.”
“And we didn’t get to 270; we got 306,” he declared, according to a transcript of his remarks, which the press was not permitted to view. “That’s even better, right? So we had an amazing time.”