WASHINGTON -- Asked for the first time publicly to address the dismissal of Michael Flynn, his national security adviser, President Donald Trump was clear Wednesday in his frustration.
But the president's target was not Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, nor his conduct.
"Gen. Flynn is a wonderful man," Trump said. "I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media -- as I call it, the fake media -- in many cases."
Trump's answer -- in which he also blamed intelligence officials for "illegally" leaking information that prompted Flynn's ouster -- marked the most prominent example to date of his reluctance to publicly shoulder the responsibility for missteps at the White House.
Nearly a month into his first term, Trump's instinct seems to be to instead return to the role he's shown he is more comfortable in: fighting back against treatment he views as unfair to him or to those close to him. And rather than putting controversy to rest, his approach has generated even more turmoil.
After Trump pointed his finger at the media and the intelligence and law enforcement communities, press secretary Sean Spicer endured a barrage of questions from reporters not just on Flynn's dismissal, but also about a New York Times report that Trump campaign officials were in direct contact with Russian intelligence officials, long denied by Trump aides.
Spicer echoed Trump's stated concern over leaks to reporters, which the president called "a criminal act."
"The idea that there's been zero attention paid to an issue of that sensitivity should be concerning and alarming," Spicer said.
Trump also skirted accountability at the news conference, and at two others in the last week, by choosing to take questions mostly from reporters at conservative-leaning outlets who tended to skip queries about the most glaring problems facing him.
The White House's focus on attacking the media did little to quell questions about whether Trump fired Flynn only once it became clear that evidence would be made public that Trump had known for weeks that Flynn had misrepresented himself to other top administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, about his discussions in December with the Russian ambassador over U.S. sanctions.