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Trump decries hostile media at press conference

By JULIE PACE Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Aggrieved and spoiling for a fight, Donald Trump used a marathon encounter with reporters Thursday to denounce the "criminal" leaks that took down his top national security adviser and revived questions about his own ties to Russia. But he offered only a lawyerly denial that his campaign aides had been in touch with Russian officials before last fall's election.

"Nobody that I know" he said in the first full-length news conference of his presidency.

The 77-minute event amounted to a free-wheeling airing of complaints, with the new president attempting to find his footing after the rockiest launch in recent memory. Trump slammed a "bad court" of appeals judges for blocking his refugee and immigration executive order and denied that his White House was paralyzed by chaos and infighting among top advisers.

"This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine," he boasted.

With his signature hyperbole betrayed by reality, Trump said there has never been a president "who in this short period of time has done what we've done." He blamed any problems on the outgoing Obama administration -- "I inherited a mess at home and abroad" -- and the news media.

Standing in the stately, chandeliered East Room, Trump lambasted the "out of control" media -- long his favorite foe. He appeared to delight in jousting with reporters, repeatedly interrupting their questions and singling out stories he disagreed with, well aware his attacks were sure to be cheered by loyal supporters who share his views.

Polls show Trump retains support among Republicans, and solid majorities of Americans say he is following through on his promises and is viewed as a strong leader, according to a Gallup survey. But on other questions Americans express deep reservations. Majorities say he doesn't inspire confidence and is not honest and trustworthy.

Trump's job approval rating is much lower than those of past presidents at the same point in their administrations. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 39 percent of Americans approve of his job performance while 56 percent disapprove.

Trump's first month in office has been chaotic by any measure -- a flurry of self-inflicted wounds and poorly executed policy. On Monday, he demanded the resignation of his national security adviser Michael Flynn following revelations that Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia. The next day, The New York Times reported that multiple Trump advisers were in touch with Russian intelligence advisers during the election campaign.

Trump panned the report as "fake news" and said he had "nothing to do with Russia."

"To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does," he added.

Trump repeatedly tried to steer questions away from his and his advisers' potential ties with Russia, saying attention should rather be focused on why a steady stream of classified information is making its way into news reports.

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