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Trump skirts Russia issue, bashes media in freewheeling news conference

Noah Bierman, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump said Thursday that "nobody that I know of" from his campaign contacted Russian agents or government officials before his election.

His denial was perhaps the most notable development in a lengthy news conference in which he berated the press and complained that he had "inherited a mess."

Trump also defended his ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn, saying that Flynn acted appropriately in discussing sanctions with Russia during the transition period. He said Flynn was asked to resign only because he misled Vice President Mike Pence about those discussions.

"I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence -- very simple," Trump said.

He said, "It certainly would have been OK with me" if Flynn discussed sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak when President Barack Obama was still in office.

"I didn't direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn't do it," Trump said.

Flynn's discussion of sanctions while another administration was still setting U.S. policy was seen as inappropriate, and possibly illegal.

Trump also promised to issue a new version of his travel ban next week, and he vowed it would withstand court scrutiny.

He complained that his many accomplishments were not being recognized while insisting that his much-criticized early weeks in office were going smoothly. He even said his travel ban worked without a hitch, despite numerous problems at airports around the country.

Trump hedged when several reporters asked him to definitively state whether anyone in his campaign had contacted Russians before the election, saying repeatedly that he himself had no involvement with the Russian government. He also said that political controversy would make it hard to cut a wide-ranging deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but that he was nonetheless committed to trying.

The news conference was a return to Trump's more spontaneous public side that characterized his campaign. He sparred with the press, bragged about the size of his election victory, boasted of his television ratings and continued to take shots at Hillary Clinton.

"I won with news conferences," he said, as if explaining why he chose to hold the impromptu news conference.

Trump, while relentlessly bemoaning what he said was unfair coverage, nonetheless insisted that he was having a good time.

"Tomorrow, they will say, 'Donald Trump rants and raves about the press,'" he said. "I'm not ranting and raving."

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