WASHINGTON — In the longest speech of his presidency to date, President Donald Trump riled up the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday, letting loose on topics ranging from the Russia investigation and the Democratic presidential field to free speech on college campuses.
Trump, still reeling from a blistering week both at home and abroad, claimed he was being "sarcastic" and "having fun with the audience" when during the 2016 campaign he urged Russia to hack Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's emails.
“I've learned with the fake news, if you tell a joke, if you are sarcastic, if you're having fun with the audience, if you are on live television with millions of people and 25,000 people in an arena, and if you say something like ‘Russia, please, if you can, get us Hillary Clinton's emails! Please, Russia, please! Please get us the emails! Please!’” Trump said in a mocking tone.
Trump was referring to a press conference in July 2016 during which he said, “Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let's see if that happens, that'll be next.”
According to an indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller, Russians made their first attempt to hack Clinton’s personal servers that same day.
Trump’s remarks, which ran for more than two hours, came just days after he returned from a trip abroad to meet with North Korean leaders, during which he suggested that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was not responsible for the death of American college student Otto Warmbier.
"I'm in such a horrible position because in one way I have to negotiate. The other way, I love Mr. and Mrs. Warmbier, and I love Otto. And it's a very, very delicate balance. He was a special young man and to see what happened was so bad," Trump said, appearing to offer an explanation for his previous comments.
But for the most part, Trump kept the focus on domestic issues and the national political fray.
“All of the sudden they're trying to take you out with bullshit,” Trump said, in reference to Mueller's probe. “Robert Mueller never received a vote and neither did the person who appointed him,” Trump continued, as he attempted to portray Mueller’s team as a group of the “angriest Democrats.”
Trump again disparaged his former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from overseeing the special counsel investigation, a move Trump took as an act of betrayal.
“And as you know, the attorney general says, ‘I'm going to recuse myself,'” Trump said, mimicking a Southern accent. “And I said, ‘Why the hell didn't he tell me that before I put him in?’ How do you recuse yourself?”
Saturday marked the president’s third CPAC speech since he was elected president. In the past, Trump has used CPAC to energize his conservative base — and this was no exception.
Trump attacked Democrats as socialists, warned once again of a caravan at the southern border full of “stone cold killers,” and referred to 2020 Democratic candidates as “maniacs," accusing their party of supporting “extreme late-term abortion.”
With the 2018 midterms behind him, Trump foreshadowed issues he hopes to focus on in his re-election campaign. The Green New Deal was front and center on Saturday.
“Nothing is more extreme than the Democrats’ plan to completely take over American energy and completely destroy America’s economy through their new $100 trillion Green New Deal,” Trump said, describing the Democratic plan to tackle climate change as a “high school term paper written by a poor student."
Trump also attacked 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, lamenting that he should not have referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as “Pocahontas” so early on in the election cycle.
“I should've saved the Pocahontas thing for another year because I’ve destroyed her political career and now I won't get a chance to run against her and I would've loved it,” Trump told the crowd. “I don’t want to knock out all the good stuff and end up with somebody that’s actually got talent.”
Trump also invited activist Hayden Williams on stage as he announced he plans to sign an executive order “very soon” requiring colleges and universities to support free speech if they want to receive federal grants.
Williams, 26, who is not a college student, was reportedly attacked on the UC-Berkeley campus while he was attempting to recruit students to his conservative activist group.