A testy Donald Trump lashes out at news media and says, 'I'm not changing'

 ·  Noah Bierman, LA Times   ·   Link to Article

Donald Trump repeatedly lashed out at the media, conservative opponents and Republican foes in a testy news conference Tuesday that he had called to answer criticism over his contributions to veterans’ charities. 

Trump reeled off a list of charities that he said had received a total of $5.6 million he had raised. The list came after weeks of questions from reporters and remained short of the $6 million he had promised during a veterans event in January on the eve of the Iowa caucuses.

But the list of charities was at least partially overshadowed by his extensive airing of personal grievances, during which he called one reporter “a sleaze” and labeled a prominent conservative pundit “a loser.”

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Trump’s advisors have been saying for weeks that he would begin to act more “presidential” and above the fray as he attempts to unite the Republican Party and broaden his appeal for the general election. But he clearly has other ideas.

“If you think I’m going to change, I’m not changing,” Trump said during the 45-minute news conference at Trump Tower.

That was mere seconds after calling Mitt Romney “a fool” and renewing his complaints that New Mexico’s Republican governor, Susana Martinez, was “not nice” in her comments about him.

The message: Those who criticize or scrutinize Trump — including reporters and fellow Republicans — will be hit back hard.

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The news conference came amid pressure on Trump to explain contradictions in the statements that he and his campaign aides have made about the money he claimed to have raised for veterans.

The promised donations have either yet to materialize, were smaller than expected, or came only after prodding from journalists.

Tuesday, Trump said he was dispersing less than originally promised, while insisting more money may come. He blamed the delays on the need to vet more than two dozen charities receiving the money.

“The press should be ashamed of themselves,” Trump said. “I have never received such bad publicity for doing such a good job.”

Trump, who has repeatedly boasted of his donations to charity, insisted several times that he was trying to keep a low profile.

“I didn’t want the credit for it,” he said repeatedly. “I don’t want the credit for it, but I shouldn’t be lambasted.”

The controversy over the donations has been one of the few during the past year that has kept Trump on defense. Trump’s difficulties with it have reinforced Democrats’ hopes of portraying him as more bluster than follow-through.

The questions about the donations fit a narrative, like Trump’s failure to release his taxes, that has allowed opponents to question whether his claims about his money hold up to scrutiny.

“I like scrutiny, but you know what,” Trump said. “When I raise money for the veterans, and it’s a massive amount of money… Find out how much Hillary Clinton’s given to the veterans — nothing.”

Trump held his veterans event Jan. 28 in Iowa after he backed out of a Fox News debate. During the event, Trump said he raised $6 million for veterans groups, including a personal donation of $1 million.

But when reporters from the Washington Post, CNN and other organizations recently contacted veterans organizations that Trump’s campaign said had received the money, they could not account for all of it, including the money Trump pledged.

A CNN report last month, for example, found $2.9 million dispersed to 27 veterans organizations. The Washington Post found $3.1 million had been given out as of last week, not including Trump’s $1-million pledge.

Earlier this month, Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told the Post the campaign had actually raised $4.5 million. A week later, Trump told the paper the sum was $5.5 million, while disputing that he had ever promised $6 million.

After a Post reporter began posting questions on Twitter about Trump’s personal pledge, the candidate promised last week to give the entire $1 million to a single organization.

Clinton and veterans groups supporting her campaign were eager to pounce, blasting out a statement before Trump’s news conference began that contrasted her record on veterans with his.

“Trump will surely brag, as he always does, about his supposed generosity and appreciation for our veterans, but nobody should be fooled by this stunt, only completed under immense pressure,” the campaign said.

“The truth is, throughout this campaign and his entire career, he's shown veterans an incredible amount of disrespect.”

Other veterans groups planned their own news conferences Tuesday.

"Donald Trump is a walking, talking fraud,” Jon Soltz, an Iraq War veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org, a liberal group, said in a statement.  

But Trump, who claimed that protesting veterans outside his news conference were Clinton plants, has his own supporters.

Al Baldasaro, a New Hampshire state representative and Trump backer who heads one of the charities receiving some of the donations, stood next to Trump during Tuesday’s news conference and at one point approached the podium to denounce the “liberal media.”

“Get your head out of your butt,” Baldasaro said. “Focus on the real issues”

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