For the first year of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump was a devoted exponent of the press conference. He seemed to revel in the format: the jousts with reporters, the free-associative possibilities, the chance to shock. But almost 1,000 days ago, Trump’s press conferences reached their apogee.
Speaking in Miami on July 27, 2016, Trump gave the final and weirdest press conference of his campaign. Calling the spectacle “bizarre even by Trump’s standards”—how naive I was!—I wrote, “Just when it starts to seem that Donald Trump can’t surprise the jaded American media anymore, the Republican nominee manages to go just a little bit further.” There was much to chew over (and spit out) in Trump’s comments that day, but the most enduring moment came when the Republican nominee answered a question about Kremlin interference in the election. Trump looked to the cameras and gave one of the more stunning remarks of his campaign.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said, referring to the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s deleted messages. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
The release of Attorney General William Barr’s summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report provides a useful opportunity to reconsider the Miami press conference in light of what the public now knows. According to Barr, Mueller concluded that Russia had, in fact, interfered in the election, but that the Trump campaign did not criminally conspire with the Putin regime. That finding makes Trump’s July 2016 remarks perhaps even more baffling than they would have been had there been a grand conspiracy. More broadly, rewatching the press conference shows how Trump’s shtick, once so astonishing, has become familiar and numbing.