MANHATTAN (CN) — One of the most notable changes between President Donald Trump’s press conference capping off the U.N. General Assembly last year and the one that took place on Wednesday can be distilled to a short, otherwise banal sentence.
“I’ll take a few questions,” Trump spat out after a rambling introduction, in which he heaped scorn upon the news media, Democratic Party and “radical, far-left socialists.”
One year ago, Trump welcomed much more than a few questions from U.S. and international reporters over the course of a freewheeling 80-minute press conference. He struck up a chat with a reporter he called “Mr. Kurd,” referring to his ethnicity. There was some talk about diplomacy involving China, Iran and North Korea but also presidential outrage about sexual assault allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the then-active Russia probe.
In the shadow of a new impeachment inquiry, those days are over.
“It’s all a hoax,” Trump declared, referring to new reports that he solicited foreign election interference against his likely 2020 Democratic opponent Joe Biden.
Though he returned to the subject time and again, Trump claimed he did not want to talk about that. He said he wanted to talk about his many bilateral meetings at the United Nations, working out a new asylum agreement he struck with leaders from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. He praised Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador as “outstanding” and El Salvador’s new leader Nayib Bukele as “tough.”
Trump also said he wanted to talk about Poland agreeing to “100%” fund a U.S. military base, in stark contrast to Mexico not paying for the barrier at the U.S. southern border.
Despite these accomplishments, Trump groused, the press would not want to talk about them.
“They’re too busy wasting their time on the witch hunt,” Trump told the reporters he was haranguing.
The fact that major U.S. outlets duly reported on both deals did not stop Trump from darkly speculating about a vast conspiracy to embarrass him during the most important week of the global diplomatic calendar.
“The Democrats did this hoax during the United Nations week,” he said. “It was perfect.”
Trump kept to his promise of only a “few” questions: from four reporters, to be precise.
One went to a Fox News reporter enthusiastic about how his U.N. speech favorably moved the markets and another to an opposition Venezuelan journalist grateful for his hardline foreign policy stance on strongman Nicolás Maduro.
The two other questions went to reporters pressing Trump on the memorandum the White House released today showing him asking a “favor” of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to look into Biden.
Zelensky told reporters Wednesday that he was surprised to find that his own private remarks insulting German and French leaders Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron had been released, and Trump told reporters that it was their fault he hesitated to make it public.
“Gee, we’re gonna release your call to the fake news media, and they’re gonna make you look like a fool,” Trump described his inner monologue.
That Trump-Zelensky conversation, and others, sparked a whistleblower complaint—or what Trump described as a “so-called whistleblower” complaint.
“There was no quid-pro-quo,” Trump insisted, invoking the legal language of the federal anti-bribery statute.
Rarely staying on topic, however, Trump laced his broadsides against the press with boasts about his 2016 election win and spin on why he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. He ad-libbed a running metaphor for why he performed better with the Electoral College.
“It’s like the 100-yard dash or the mile,” he explained. “You train differently.”
He did, however, save some praise for one hard-right radio personality: “Rush Limbaugh,” Trump said with a smile, as he added: “Great man.”
Rapidly winding up the conference, Trump left the room as a reporter shouted out a question about why his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani is conducting foreign policy. The memo released today showed that Trump told Zelensky that Giuliani and U.S. Attorney General William Barr would call him about the investigation of Biden that he requested earlier.