A defiant President Trump unleashed a flurry of nearly a dozen tweets Saturday morning, asserting that he has the “complete power to pardon” aides, family members and possibly even himself — an apparent response to the special counsel’s widening Russia probe — and decrying “illegal leaks” in the “FAKE NEWS.”
The president also lashed out at a new Washington Post report of previously undisclosed alleged contacts between Attorney General Jeff Sessions — at the time a U.S. senator and senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign — and a Russian official. In a tweet, Trump called the disclosures an illegal new “intelligence leak,” part of his continuing effort to try to shift the public focus to what he claims is a partisan attempt to undermine his presidency.
The president’s defense of his pardoning authority came days after The Post reported that he and his legal team have discussed his power to pardon those close to him, including himself.
Shortly after his tweet storm, which started just after 6:30 a.m. and lasted nearly two hours, Trump flew to Norfolk, where he injected a small dose of partisan politics into the ceremonial commissioning of a new naval warship.
Speaking aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford, Trump extolled the virtues of the “wonderful, beautiful but very, very powerful” nuclear-powered warship — “We will win, win, win,” he said, “we will never lose” — but also decried the budget compromise known as sequestration, which requires mandatory and corresponding military and domestic cuts.
Trump promised to try to restore higher levels of military funding but also urged the crowd of about 6,500 — many in uniform — to help him push this year’s budget, in which he said he will seek an additional $54 billion in defense spending, through Congress.
“I don’t mind getting a little hand, so call that congressman and call that senator and make sure you get it,” he said, to applause. “And by the way, you can also call those senators to make sure you get health care.”
But Trump’s brief appeal created a potentially awkward tableau at a commissioning event intended to be ceremonial — a commander in chief offering political remarks, and what could even be construed as an order, to the naval officers he commands.
The president’s 17-minute speech aboard the naval vessel here, as well as his frenzied social media assertions Saturday — which veered between proclamations of innocence and frustration — came as Trump is struggling to stabilize his presidency, just six months in. He and several family members, including his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, are facing mounting legal questions about their involvement in possible collusion between the president’s 2016 campaign and Russia.