OXON HILL, Md. – President Donald Trump capped a tumultuous week by reveling in the embrace of conservative activists on Saturday, deriding investigations of him as “bulls—,” repeatedly complaining about coverage of his crowd sizes and abruptly announcing an executive order to mandate protection of free speech on college campuses.
In his remarks at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, which stretched beyond two hours, Trump also mocked the “Green New Deal” promoted by liberals to address climate change, disparaged his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions with a faux Southern accent and defended his move to declare a national emergency to secure money for his U.S.-Mexico border wall that was denied by Congress.
“You know, I don’t know, maybe you know. You know, I’m totally off script right?” Trump said at the outset of his extended speech. “This is how I got elected, by being off script . . . and if we don’t go off script, our country is in big trouble, folks.”
But the Russia probe and those leading it drew the biggest ire and even profanity from the president, as investigations ramp up in Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller continues his probe into potential collusion between Trump associates and Moscow.
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“So now they go and morph into, let’s inspect every deal he’s ever done,” Trump complained. Nicknaming House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., as “Little Shifty Schiff,” Trump continued: “These people are sick. They’re sick.”
Noting that “you put the wrong people in a couple of positions,” Trump added: “And they leave people for a long time that shouldn’t be there and all of a sudden they are trying to take you out with bulls—, OK?” Trump said.
“Now Robert Mueller never received a vote and neither did the person who appointed him,” the president said.
Trump’s speech zigzagging from trade to immigration, the 2016 campaign to last fall’s midterm elections came against the backdrop of the collapse of his summit with North Korea and the extraordinary congressional testimony from his former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.
Cohen testified in detail about how Trump manipulated financial records and learned of WikiLeaks’ efforts to dump damaging information on Hillary Clinton in advance.
Trump mentioned his call during the 2016 campaign for Russia to hack into Clinton’s emails, although he suggested that he was being sarcastic at the time and criticized the news media for coverage of those remarks.
Few targets were spared in Trump’s wide-ranging speech, which included jabs at various unnamed Republican senators – “Where do these people come from?” – his potential Democratic challengers in 2020 and a swipe at Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.
“We have a gentleman who likes raising interest rates, a gentleman who likes quantitative tightening,” said Trump. “Can you imagine if we left interest rates where they were? If we didn’t do quantitative tightening, taking money out of the market?
Trump has repeatedly slammed Powell for raising interest rates too quickly. Powell has said the rate hikes were necessary in light of the economic evidence, but in January acknowledged the case for raising rates “has weakened” somewhat.
He also dismissed one prominent argument from Republicans on his recent decision to declare a national emergency to redirect federal funds for his border wall. While GOP lawmakers have argued that his move could set a precedent for future Democratic presidents, Trump argued that the answer to that is for him to be reelected instead.
“They’re gonna do that anyway, folks,” Trump said. “The best way to stop that is for us to win the election.”
Trump mocked the Green New Deal’s climate-related provisions, deriding the plan as promoting “no planes, no energy.”
“When the wind stops blowing, that’s the end of your electric,” Trump said, before launching into an impression. “‘Darling, is the wind blowing today? I’d like to watch television, darling.'”
Key planks of the liberal platform call for renewed investments in energy and transportation alternatives. While a fact sheet associated with the Green New Deal proposes to “build out high-speed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary,” the resolution does not advocate for terminating air travel.
Trump also announced that he would sign a new executive order to make federal research funding for colleges and universities contingent on their support for “free speech.” The move appeared to be a response to complaints by some university critics that institutions of higher education stifle right-wing viewpoints.
“If they want our dollars, and we give it to them by the billions, they’ve got to allow people like Hayden and many great young people, and old people, to speak,” Trump said, bringing onstage a young conservative, Hayden Williams, who was physically attacked last month while lobbying for a conservative organization at the University of California at Berkeley.
Ahead of Saturday’s conference, Trump dealt with a chaotic and tumultuous week even by his own standards.
Negotiations in Hanoi, Vietnam, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un proved inconsequential, with the White House saying it could not accede to Kim’s demands that the United States end all economic sanctions in exchange for closing just one nuclear facility. The North Koreans gave a different account, insisting that the regime asked for only a partial lifting of sanctions.
Though he was largely praised for walking away from a potentially bad deal with Kim, Trump ignited another furor when he said in Hanoi that he took the North Korean leader “at his word” when he denied knowing about the treatment of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who died in 2017 upon returning to the United States after being detained in Pyongyang the year before.
Warmbier’s parents issued a statement in response saying Kim and his “evil regime” were responsible for their son’s death, and Trump later clarified on Twitter, saying: “Of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto’s mistreatment and death.”
Two hours into his CPAC speech, Trump brought up the North Korea talks, declaring his affection for the Warmbiers and talking about the “very, very delicate balance” of the nuclear negotiations.
“We made a lot of progress,” Trump said, noting a “very good meeting” and saying North Korea “has an incredible, brilliant future.”
The week also included the disclosure – by The New York Times, then confirmed by The Washington Post – that Trump ordered his former chief of staff, John Kelly, to grant presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner his top secret security clearance, even though Trump has previously denied involvement in securing a clearance for Kushner, a senior White House adviser.