Updated 8:50 a.m. | President Donald Trump had little to say Wednesday night about his self-created migrant crisis, but in its midst he was quick to suggest the media committed treason with its coverage of his summit with Kim Jong Un.
Speaking to a campaign rally crowd in Minnesota, Trump gave only a brief mention to his decision to keep migrant families together while the parents await prosecution for the misdemeanor of trying to enter the United States illegally. He appeared in no mood to talk about the broader subject, immigration, one of his go-to campaign rally themes.
Trump told a crowd in Duluth that he signed an executive order that will “keep families together,” but — striking a familiar hard-line tone on a topic that helped him win the White House — he assured the friendly audience that “the border is going to be as tough as it has been.” He then moved on to his standard line that “Democrats put illegal immigrants before they put American citizens. What the hell is going on?”
But — in a break from past rallies during which he railed for several minutes against U.S. immigration laws, previous presidents and Congresses, and the countries from which migrants come and pass through — he quickly moved on to other topics.
His administration’s decision to enforce an existing law and honor a court ruling limiting the time migrant families can be detained as a unit forced children to be separated from their parents. The matter exploded into a controversy late last week and then a crisis over the weekend, culminating in a disastrous and contentious White House briefing Monday by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Watch: Trump Says News Media ‘Almost Treasonous’ for North Korea Deal Coverage
The same day, with more and more Republican lawmakers making a rare public break with the GOP president who remains so popular with their common political base, Trump lashed out at the news media by essentially accusing reporters, producers and editors of a crime punishable by death.
“First of all, we came to a wonderful agreement,” he told former Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee in an interview recorded for his weekly Trinity Broadcasting Network show. “It’s a shame the fake news covers it the way they do.”
“It’s really, it’s almost treasonous, you want to know the truth,” Trump said, several navy blue flags with the presidential seal positioned around him.
He then went onto to tout the North Korean leader’s willingness to turn over the remains of American troops who died on his country’s soil during the Korean War, and Kim’s promise to give up his nuclear weapons and infrastructure. (So far, however, the two sides have yet to work out a schedule for the North’s disarming process or a way the U.S. and its allies can verify Kim is living up to what amounts to a gentlemen’s agreement.)
“If you listen to the mainstream media, it’s almost like I lost a negotiation,” Trump griped, publicly letting show his annoyance with media coverage, of which he consumes hours each day.
He did the same Wednesday night in Duluth, where he was ostensibly appearing to help GOP House candidate Pete Stauber. Even earlier than usual during a campaign rally, the president began to rail against the media before pointing out the journalists in the press pen across from the stage with his presidential podium.
He complained they never showed an entire arena to accurately portray what he always says is a full house. (Fact check: Sometimes the houses have not been full.) As he hammered the media, the crowd chanted, “CNN sucks.”
Trump has frustrated even his GOP allies this week over the migrant policy and his unwillingness to endorse one of two House Republican immigration overhaul measures set for votes Thursday. His anti-media comments are likely to do the same.
That’s because Republicans such as Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the founding chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, support legislation to protect journalists after federal officials recently seized the private email and phone records of a New York Times reporter.
Jordan is pushing journalist protection legislation in the House because “we’ve seen so many encroachments … by our government.”
“The government should go wholeheartedly after people who are leaking information, particularly if it’s classified. Let’s go get those and bring the full force of the government and law on people who do that,” he told CNN on Thursday morning. “But you cannot go after the reporter. Freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom to practice your religion — this is the First Amendment for goodness sake. You cannot do that.”
While he basically accused the media of a crime the U.S. Code states could bring a death sentence or prison time of at least five years, Trump had nothing but gushing praise for the North Korean leader, who Human Rights Watch and other organizations say runs one of the most brutal dictatorships on the planet.
Always quick to reveal his belief that foreign policy boils down to his relationships with other leaders, Trump told the crowd he and Kim “got along real well.”
“They didn’t want us to,” he said of the media, before declaring, “Chairman Kim will turn that country into a great, successful country.”
The otherwise adoring audience appeared to have its doubts, responding with only tepid applause.
Watch: Trump Signs Order to End Family Separation Policy, Calls on Congress to Act
Back in Washington, the president returned to the offensive — on Twitter, at least — the next morning. He fired off several tweets criticizing U.S. immigration laws and predicting Democratic leaders will come to him to cut a deal.
“At some point,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whom he dubbed “weak on Crime and Border security,” will “be forced to do a real deal.” The president called that kind of bipartisan pact “so easy.”
The Border has been a big mess and problem for many years. At some point Schumer and Pelosi, who are weak on Crime and Border security, will be forced to do a real deal, so easy, that solves this long time problem. Schumer used to want Border security - now he’ll take Crime!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 21, 2018
We shouldn’t be hiring judges by the thousands, as our ridiculous immigration laws demand, we should be changing our laws, building the Wall, hire Border Agents and Ice and not let people come into our country based on the legal phrase they are told to say as their password.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 21, 2018