Mitt Romney, CNN, the top brass at the FBI at the beginning of 2017 — these were just some of the targets of a verbal lashing from Donald Trump at the daily White House coronavirus briefing on Sunday.
While Mr Trump, the vice president Mike Pence, and other White House coronavirus task force officials spent nearly an hour at the podium mounting a public relations campaign to paint the administration’s response to the health crisis in positive colours amid outside criticism from Democrats and health experts, the question-and-answer portion of the briefing turned characteristically chaotic as the president clashed with reporters.
When asked to comment on his convicted former campaign adviser Roger Stone’s imminent imprisonment, Mr Trump labelled former FBI Director James Comey and others at the FBI “human scum” for pursuing cases against the his former associates, including Mr Stone, former 2016 Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The president suggested Mr Stone, Mr Manafort, and Mr Flynn — who have all been convicted of felonies since working for Mr Trump — were unfairly targeted by law enforcement, though he declined to say whether he would pardon any of them.
Mr Manafort is roughly one year into a 7.5-year prison sentence. Mr Stone’s motion for a new trial on charges of lying to Congress was dismissed last week, setting up a potential prison start-day soon. Mr Flynn’s sentencing has been postponed indefinitely.
At another point in the briefing, Mr Trump confirmed that he purposely snubbed Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the sole Republican senator out of 53 not to be named to the president’s wide-ranging task force to re-open the economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Asked whether Mr Romney’s exclusion indicated the president still held a grudge over the Utah senator’s vote to convict him during his impeachment trial earlier this year, Mr Trump responded, “Yeah, it does”.
“I’m not a fan of Mitt Romney. I don’t really want his advice,” he said, despite Mr Romney’s background as a former governor and chairman of the Salt Lake Olympics organising committee.
Mr Trump’s also directed his ire at the media, with particularly heated clashes with reporters from CBS and CNN.
“You people are so pathetic at CNN,” Mr Trump said in response to a series of questions from CNN reporter Jeremy Diamond about the president’s past praise of his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, near the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in the US and after Mr Trump and Mr Xi had struck a major trade deal.
“That’s why your ratings are so bad. You’re pathetic. Your ratings are terrible. You’ve got to get back to real news,” Mr Trump told the CNN reporter.