Trump rants - and raves about himself

US President in live TV interview also distances himself from long-time lawyer

WASHINGTON • A riled-up President Donald Trump has let loose on everything from the Russia probe, to "crimes" by his opponents, to his legal tangles with a porn star in a free-wheeling interview live on TV.

Mr Trump called in to the popular breakfast show Fox and Friends on Thursday to mark the occasion of First Lady Melania Trump's birthday, he said.

Despite a cosy welcome from the three hosts - regular cheerleaders for the Republican President - the interview almost immediately took an awkward turn when Mr Trump was asked about his gift for his wife.

"Maybe I didn't get her so much," said the billionaire, suggesting he got a card and some flowers. "You know I'm very busy to be running out looking for presents," he added.

Over the animated half-hour that followed, Mr Trump rattled through grievances and boasts in a virtual monologue, delivered at machine gun speed.

He attacked former FBI director James Comey as "guilty of crimes" and vowed retribution for those who helped scuttle his doctor's bid to be head of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

TOO BUSY

Maybe I didn't get her so much... You know I'm very busy to be running out looking for presents.

MR DONALD TRUMP, responding to a question about a birthday gift for his wife.


SELF-PRAISE

I would give myself an 'A+... Nobody has done what I have been able to do, and I did it despite the fact that I have a phoney cloud over my head that doesn't exist.

MR TRUMP, on coping with his legal woes.

Amid the scattershot remarks, he bragged again about his 17-month-old electoral college win - ever aggrieved at losing the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton - and suggested he had three or four dates in mind to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Between favourable questions about why Mr Trump's political opponents oppose him, hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade appeared shocked and uneasy at some of the responses. At one point, as Mr Trump was mid-diatribe about "fake news" CNN, Mr Kilmeade interjected, "Yeah, but don't worry about them". The TV host's efforts were largely in vain.

Time and again Mr Trump's thoughts trailed back to his own legal woes, including the Russia probe that has imperilled his closest aides and threatens to hamstring his entire administration. "I would give myself an 'A+'," he said. "Nobody has done what I have been able to do, and I did it despite the fact that I have a phoney cloud over my head that doesn't exist."

"Everyone knows it's a fix, okay? It's a witch hunt and they know that and I've been able to message it," Mr Trump railed.

Mr Trump was at special pains to distance himself from his long-time lawyer, Mr Michael Cohen, who is now under criminal investigation. "Michael is in business, he is really a businessman, at fairly big businesses, I understand," Mr Trump said. "I don't know his business, but it doesn't have to do with me," he added, sweeping aside their decades-old relationship.

But Mr Trump did make the notable admission that his lawyer-cum-fixer had represented him "with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal".

Mr Trump and the White House have long denied that the President knew anything about Mr Cohen's US$130,000 (S$172,300) payment to the porn star.

"From what I see," he continued, "he did absolutely nothing wrong. There were no campaign funds going into this, which would have been a problem."

Ms Daniels has said the payment, which Mr Cohen has admitted to, was made to cover up a fling with Mr Trump. Mr Michael Avenatti, Ms Daniels' attorney, quickly seized on the President's comments, suggesting they would help her lawsuit trying to nullify the 2016 non-disclosure agreement by proving Mr Trump's involvement in the effort to keep her quiet before the election.

Mr Trump denies having sex with Ms Daniels while married and, more broadly, said he had made a decision to "try to stay away from" the workings of the Justice Department "but pretty soon I won't".

At times, it sounded as if Mr Trump was shouting into the phone. Unprompted, he also attacked former secretary of state John Kerry ("the worst negotiator I've ever seen"), "Sleepy Eyes" Chuck Todd of Meet the Press on NBC News ("the guy shouldn't even be on the show") and Mr Andrew McCabe, the fired former deputy director of the FBI (part of a "crooked" bureau leadership").

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2018, with the headline 'Trump rants - and raves about himself'. Print Edition | Subscribe