World

When Trump turns to theatrics

US President-elect brags, jokes and slams media during first press conference in nearly six months

NEW YORK: Donald Trump was combative and in control at his first press conference in nearly six months on Wednesday (yesterday morning, Singapore time).

He stuck to his campaign formula - boasting of his successes, cracking jokes and slamming media he considers hostile.

Journalists sat elbow to elbow in the crowded marble lobby of Trump Tower, clamouring with question after question nine days before the Republican is sworn in as president of the United States.

Branding an explosive and unsubstantiated report that claims Moscow holds deeply compromising information about him as "fake", Mr Trump picked more than a dozen journalists to ask questions on topics dominated by Russia, but extending to healthcare, tax cuts and conflict of interest.

VINTAGE

It was vintage Trump: the former reality star and billionaire tycoon who loves nothing more than setting straight the record - as he sees it - praising some media outlets and laying siege to others.

Through it all he pitched himself directly to his voters, jabbing his right index finger to hammer home a point and glossing over details at one point as "very complicated stuff".

The lobby back was decorated with a blue curtain and 10 US flags, and considerably larger than the briefing room at the White House where Mr Trump will face the media post-inauguration. There were props and visuals: a table with stacks of files over which he waved his arm as evidence of the steps he was taking to isolate himself - but not divest - from his company.

His smartly dressed adult children stood to his right. Key aides such as son-in-law, Mr Jared Kushner, and Mr Steve Bannon watched from the left.

A smattering of supporters on the sidelines applauded when Mr Trump landed particularly funny or biting blows.

His performance is tried and tested: deny and deflect.

No sooner had he admitted - in a first - the Russian hacking of US targets ahead of the election, than he deflected back to attacking his former presidential opponent Hillary Clinton.

He began with politeness and praise for The New York Times and other outlets he previously criticised, for pushing back against the unsubstantiated political research report claiming Russia holds compromising information about him.

There was also defiance, as he called the intelligence services "disgraceful" for allowing "fake" information to be released to the public, saying it was "something Nazi Germany would have done and did do".

He assailed a CNN reporter, refusing to take his question, pointing his finger straight at the network's White House correspondent.

"Quiet," he snapped at the reporter. "I'm not going to give you a question. You're fake news."

Then there was condescending Trump.

"Oh gee, I never heard that before," he sniped when a reporter pressed him on his tax returns - which he continues to resist releasing.

Then were the snippets of Trump vanity such as comparing his wealth to that of Nelson Rockefeller, vice-president under President Gerald Ford in the 1970s, and demonstrations of his apparent altruism for the American people.

For example, he claimed to have turned down a US$2 billion (S$2.8 billion) deal last week in Dubai while his lawyer revealed he would funnel payments from foreign governments to his hotels into the US Treasury.

Rather than personally present his plans to isolate himself from his Trump Organization, he brought out Ms Sheri Dillon, partner in a Washington law firm to do so, as he stood to the side.

After a whirling hour of back-and-forth with the press, the end was abrupt: a joke at the expense of his sons, Donald Jr and Eric, who will run his company during his presidency.

Said Mr Trump: "I hope at the end of eight years I'll come back and say 'oh, you did a good job'. Otherwise I'll say you're fired!" - AFP

Trump talk from the press conference

"We're going to create jobs. I said that I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created. And I mean that."

- On job creation

"As far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they're going to suffer the consequences."

- On website BuzzFeed, which published the unverified 35-page report in full

"If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia... I don't know that I'm going to get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do. But there's a good chance I won't."

- On the report that said Russia preferred him over Hillary Clinton

"I'm also very much of a germophobe, believe me."

- Referring to a detail in the dossier about alleged sex videos with prostitutes

"I'm not releasing the tax returns because, as you know, they're under audit… The only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters. They're the only ones."

- On his tax returns

"It's all fake news. It's phony stuff. It did not happen. And it was gotten by opponents of ours, as you know because you reported it and so did many of the other people. It was a group of opponents they got together - sick people - and they put that crap together."

- On the content of the Russian dossier, which included the now-infamous "golden shower" allegations

- WIRE SERVICES

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