This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," February 16, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Mike Flynn is a fine person. I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence, very simple. What was wrong was the way that other people, including yourselves in this room, were given the information, because that was classified information that was given illegally. That's the real problem.
The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.
I don't mind bad stories when it's true. I'm not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you you're dishonest people.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised her campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?
TRUMP: I told you General Flynn obviously was dealing, so that's one person, but he was dealing, as he should have been?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: During the election?
TRUMP: No, nobody that I know of.
Russia is fake news. I've actually called the Justice Department to look into the leaks. Those are criminal leaks.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, it was freewheeling. It sounded and felt a lot like the campaign trail and candidate Donald Trump. It was 78 minutes long. It started by an introduction of the new labor secretary nominee, Alexander Acosta. The Dean of the Florida International University Law School is well respected on both sides of the aisle, expected not to have any problems in confirmation, although the first nominee obviously data.
What about this news conference, what we learned from it and its tone and tenor? Let's bring in our expanded panel: Fox News chief Washington correspondent James Rosen; Tom Bevan, Real Clear Politics co-founder and publisher; Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Mollie, your thoughts?
MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: I would watch a Donald Trump press conference at any time of any day. It's just so entertaining, particularly after eight years of these sort of lengthy press conferences where Obama would take 90 minutes to get through four questions. This was just fascinating to watch.
There was a lot of substance on Russia, talking about the new labor secretary, what happened with Mike Flynn, the immigration executive order and changes that will happen there.
But what made it so entertaining was he's rough around the edges. He is imprecise with his language, and that's problematic, but he's focused on his goals. He is businesslike about that, and he punches back. And it's really interesting to see that. We are coming out of weeks of this narrative that Russia was in control of the election. And I think for a lot of people the way they hear that is that they are idiots -- the media want them to believe they are idiots for falling for the Russia thing. And so nobody was pushing back on that for a while. He comes back and he pushes back hard. And I think it was just very refreshing to hear.
BAIER: Tom, the supporters of Donald Trump you saw on social media all day. They were cheering for the rafters. The opponents, their heads were exploding. The dichotomy was really amazing to watch.
TOM BEVAN, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: No, exactly. And it did feel very much like we were transported back to the campaign. He was talking about his poll numbers. He starts bashing the media. But I think that is one of the most interesting things about this, which is the dichotomy that exists between what the press talks about and focuses and what Donald Trump supporters.
And Trump said right at the top of the press conferences that he is speaking to the people. He wanted to go out there and change the narrative and rebut the claims that his administration was in chaos, that it was in turmoil, that any of this Russia stuff was true. And he was able to do that, I think, pretty effectively. If you are looking at it from the point of view of his supporters, he was able to do it effectively. And again, if you are a Trump critic, you looked at what happened today and you thought it was totally ineffective and just more of the same.
JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I was struck by the fact that in commentary that you offered on air right after this news conference, you said that his supporters would probably be delighted. I am paraphrasing, but faithfully, Bret. And you said that opponents of Donald Trump will say that he was unhinged in this appearance. And sure enough, Jake Tapper, our friend and colleague at CNN, used that very word to describe the performance, unhinged.
Maybe because I come from New York City and I grew up listening to Donald Trump more or less my whole life, I'm not shocked or appalled by behavior like we saw today. And I do find it riveting as a performance. He's got this kind of boozy, schmooze, rat pack kind of tough guy delivery, a kind of a comic delivery that works for him, I think.
The left I think with each news conference, with each event of this presidency tries to up the ante and basically say to everyone else that if you don't respond to Donald Trump in apocalyptic terms, then you're going to be writ out of polite, civilized society. And my wife and I, we live in the district and we feel it in our interpersonal relationships. But I didn't find anything in this news conference that struck me as unhinged. Rather it was a very canny reflection of I think counsel he has received that the most persuasive speaker on his behalf is Donald Trump himself.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I found him hinged.
BAIER: You often don't hear "hinged."
KRAUTHAMMER: But it was a stream of consciousness. It was a performance unlike any other. You think of the JFK press conferences or Reagan or others, this is a performance art. And I suppose, I'm willing to be schooled on this, that you have to judge him by his own terms. If you try to connect the dots or the sentences or the fragments, it doesn't always hold together. I must say of course the high point was when he mentioned to me. I thought I was going to be the surprise new national security advisor.
BAIER: I think it's still open.
KRAUTHAMMER: I've got to weigh it because I will miss you, Bret.
KRAUTHAMMER: But look, I did think you are exactly right. The country is really divided. He's not the one who caused it, but his supporters will love this, and those who are skeptical about him are going to wonder about how hinged he is.
BAIER: All right, so let's just look at the pushback from opponents who say this White House is not operating, as he said, like a fine-tuned machine. The firing, as he called it, today in the news conference of Michael Flynn, the fact that you don't have an NSA yet. This is his defense secretary traveling overseas, asked about Russia's potential interference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I would say there is very little doubt they have either interfered or they have attempted to interfere in a number of elections in the democracies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: That is going to continue no matter what the news conference has or does. So he still faces some headwinds here.
HEMINGWAY: He does, but the thing is we've had this way of discussing Russian meddling in elections that is so over-the-top that so extreme that when you actually drill down to get the facts it's much more restrained. And I think there is a need to push back on this extremism in how we are talking about Russia.
I don't think a lot of people disagreed that there was some meddling by Russia. Did it affect the election? Did it, as Elizabeth Warren say, was it a cyber-attack on our election? The rhetoric that people are using is way over-the-top and it's actually causing some pretty delusional thinking and a large sector of the population. Losing groups always come up with conspiracy theories, but this conspiracy theory is very destabilizing and could hurt foreign policy and also domestic relations. People need to calm down and be careful with how they are reporting what actually happened.
BAIER: I want to put up a shot of the White House, a statement just in moments ago from the CIA Director Mike Pompeo where he is answering claims that the intelligence is being withheld from the president. He says, quote, "It is the CIA's mission to provide the president with the best intelligence possible and to explain the basis for that intelligence. The CIA does not, has not, and will never hide intelligence from the president, period. We are not aware of any instance that has occurred. Today's "Wall Street Journal" story is dead wrong and impugns the integrity of thousands of professional intelligence officers by peddling gossip without citing a single example to support its claims." Tom?
BEVAN: This is the problem. You give "The Wall Street Journal" reporters the benefit of the doubt. They didn't make this up out of whole cloth. Somebody told it to them. But then you have the administration saying that this is flatly untrue. We saw similar reports, the "Washington Post" reported a meeting that never happened between Bannon and John Kelly. So there's a lot of this misinformation going around.
I think Trump is rightly aggravated and frustrated by the fact that there is a coordinated campaign of leaks that are out there. Some of them classified, some of them not, some of them just rumor mill stuff, but all intended to damage him and perhaps undermine his presidency.
BAIER: I want to play one more quick sound bite. This is the president on the tax plan and Obamacare.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Tax reform is going to happen fairly quickly. We are doing Obamacare, we're in the final stages. We should be submitting the initial plan in March.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: James, as he lays that out, sounds like it's going to be rapid-fire once they get to Obamacare first in early March and then subsequently a tax reform plan and infrastructure.
ROSEN: At the Republican retreat in Philadelphia about three weeks ago we had heard apparently that Speaker Ryan had laid out a very aggressive timetable for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare. And then we have been led to understand that it wasn't going to move that fast, and even the president told Bill O'Reilly that it could move into next year. Now we are back to mid-March latest from the president's lips. And I think that might have come as something of a thunderbolt on Capitol Hill to the Republicans.
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