President Donald Trump defended his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn during a fiery and wide-ranging press conference Thursday afternoon, saying the retired general "did nothing wrong" and blasting the press for its reporting on the scandal.Flynn "was doing his job. He was calling countries," Trump said of Flynn's conversation with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak. "I didn't direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn't do it," Trump said.
When Donald Trump spoke to the CIA the day after his inauguration, I genuinely believed it was the strangest speech I've ever seen an American president deliver. When he did some television interviews in the days that followed, I concluded, quite sincerely, that they were the strangest interviews I've ever seen conducted with an American president.And when Trump hosted a White House press conference this afternoon -- his first major media event since taking office -- it was hard not to conclude that it was the strangest press conference ever held by an American president.
In terms of the substantive news this afternoon, that was certainly one of the more relevant takeaways. As far as Trump is concerned, he had to fire his National Security Advisor for lying about benign actions that the president supported, but was unaware of.This, of course, still doesn't add up: the White House was notified weeks ago that Flynn lied, but Flynn nevertheless remained in his position until this week.But while Trump's Russia scandal continues to unfold, today's press conference was absolutely stunning, not necessarily because of the news the president broke, but because he was so wildly unhinged.At one point, he declared, "Tomorrow, they will say, 'Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.' I'm not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you. You know, you're dishonest people. But I'm not ranting and raving. I love this. I'm having a good time doing it. But tomorrow, the headlines are going to be, 'Donald Trump rants and raves.' I'm not ranting and raving."This was near the end of a lengthy media event in which he was clearly both ranting and raving. It was hard to tell if we were watching a president or a performance artist offering a powerful commentary about the cringe-worthy absurdities of our modern political lives.Going through my notes, it's honestly difficult to know where to start. With Trump complaining about the "mess" he "inherited" from President Obama, despite how little sense that makes? With his demonstrable lies about his electoral vote totals?How about Trump bragging about the size of the crowd of an event in Florida that's still two days away? Or maybe the president inexplicably describing his White House as a "fine-tuned machine" just days after he was forced to show his National Security Advisor the door after three weeks on the job?At one point he said "the leaks are real," but "the news is fake." At another point, he said, "We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban."He mentioned Hillary Clinton 11 times.Towards the end of the event a reporter, who is an African-American woman, asked if the president intended to include the Congressional Black Caucus in his conversations about the White House's urban agenda. "Well, I would," Trump said. "I tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?"Reminded that the reporter is, in fact, a reporter, the president nevertheless suggested that she help "set up the meeting" -- apparently working from the assumption that a black journalist somehow has a special in with the Congressional Black Caucus.A few minutes earlier, Trump assured reporters that he's "the least racist person" they've ever seen.Recent events have shaken confidence in Trump's bizarre, scandal-plagued presidency. Today's press conference made matters vastly worse.