President Donald Trump gave himself a "C' grade for communication and blamed Barack Obama for the White House leaks in an extraordinary interview.
In a interview with Fox News Channel, Trump offered high marks for his accomplishments in the White House, but he gave himself a "C" for messaging, conceding that he has not been able to properly explain what he's done.
"In terms of messaging, I would give myself a C or a C plus," Trump said. "In terms of achievement, I think I'd give myself an A. Because I think I've done great things, but I don't think I have - I and my people, I don't think we've explained it well enough to the American public."
President Trump has been dismissing the protests against his presidency and demonstrations at congressional town hall meetings across the country as concocted by his political enemies. But now he has an alleged culprit: Barack Obama.
Trump said that he believes his predecessor is helping to organise the protests.
"I think that President Obama is behind it because his people certainly are behind it," Trump said. "In terms of him being behind things, that's politics. It will probably continue."
Trump made his comments during an interview at the White House with Fox & Friends anchors Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade and Ainsley Earhardt. Most of the interview will air Tuesday morning, in advance of Trump's formal address to a joint session of Congress, but Fox released an excerpt Monday of his remarks about Obama.
In the interview, one of the Fox trio told Trump that Obama's political group - presumably Organising for Action, the successor group to Obama's campaigns - was helping to organise activists to demonstrate, and asked the president whether he suspected Obama himself was behind the efforts.
"I think he is behind it," Trump said. "I also think it's politics. That's the way it is."
A spokesman for Obama did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Trump has lambasted the town-hall demonstrators on social media, tweeting last week that they were "so-called angry crowds" and that the demonstrations were "planned out by liberal activists."
TRUMP DENIES 'MAJOR LEAK PROCESS'
Mr Trump also denied that there's a "major leak process" at the White House following reports that White House press secretary Sean Spicer targeted leaks from his own staff.
Mr Trump responded to a Politico report that said Spicer convened an "emergency meeting" after details of a planning meeting got out, and conducted a "phone check" to prove they hadn't been leaking information.
He says he "would have handled it differently than Sean. But Sean handles it his way and I'm OK with it." Mr Trump says, "Sean Spicer is a fine human being," but adds, "I would have gone one-on-one with different people."
Mr Trump also said White House officials have "sort of ideas" about who may have leaked information, adding that "we have people from other campaigns, we have people from other governments."
Mr Trump also had another crack at the media, saying he wouldn't use his favoured platform Twitter is the media was "honest."
"If I felt the media were honest, all or most of it, I wouldn't use Twitter. But it's a modern-day form of communication," he said.
TRUMP 'NOT RACIST'
Mr Trump also responded to jokes in host Jimmy Kimmel's Academy Awards monologue that insinuated he's racist.
"It just seems the other side, whenever they are losing badly, they always pull out the race card," Trump said.
Among other jokes at Mr Trump's expense, Kimmel said "Remember when last year the Oscars were considered racist?" suggesting that now things are even worse with Mr Trump.
"The fact is, I did pretty well, much better than past people in the Republican Party in the recent election, having to do with Hispanics, having to do with African-Americans," he said. "I did pretty well or I wouldn't be sitting here."
When asked if he took Kimmel's joke seriously, he said, "I can't."
"Because I consider it a very serious [accusation] when they say it and I have to write it off as purely politics."
ATTENDING CORRESPONDENTS DINNER WOULD BE 'INAPPROPRIATE'
Mr Trump said he's skipping this year's White House Correspondents Association dinner because he feels mistreated by the media.
"I am not a hypocrite. I haven't been treated properly," Mr Trump said.
Mr Trump will be the first sitting President to miss the annual dinner since Ronald Reagan in 1981 when he was recuperating after being shot by John Hinckley Jr.
"In light of the fact of fake news and all of the other things we're talking about, I thought it would be inappropriate," Mr Trump told Fox & Friends. "I have great respect for the press. I have great respect for reporters and the profession. I just thought it would be better if I didn't do it."
Mr Trump also reiterated his belief that mainstream journalists have fabricated stories about him. "I believe a lot of the stories are made up. They're pure fiction," he said.
Trump complimented the Fox & Friends team for treating him "very fairly." He called himself "a friend" to the show.
MILITARY SPENDING WILL COME FROM A 'REVVED UP ECONOMY'
Mr Trump's advisers say he will use his prime-time speech Tuesday to declare early progress on his campaign promises, including withdrawing the US from a sweeping Pacific Rim trade pact, and to map a path ahead on thorny legislative priorities, including health care, infrastructure, and military spending. "We're going to spend a lot more money on military," Mr Trump said on Fox & Friends, saying he could stand to see even $US30 billion ($40 billion) more than what's being recommended.
"We're going to get involved in negotiating. We're going to be able to get, I think, a lot more product for a buck and I'm going to be very, very serious about it," he said.
He also said the extra $US54 billion he has proposed spending on the US military will be offset by a stronger economy as well as cuts in other areas.
"I think the money is going to come from a revved up economy," Mr Trump said.
"I mean you look at the kind of numbers we're doing, we were probably GDP of a little more than one per cent and if I can get that up to three or maybe more, we have a whole different ball game. It's a whole different ball game."
Earlier in the week, Mr Trump outlined what he called a "historic" increase in defence spending which has run into opposition from Republicans in Congress who say it is not enough to meet the military's needs.
The proposed rise in the Pentagon budget to $US603 billion comes as the US has wound down major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and remains the world's strongest military power.
The plan came under fire from Democratic politicians, who said cuts being proposed to pay for the additional military spending would cripple important domestic programs such as environmental protection and education.
TRUMP TO REVIEW STREAM AND WETLAND PROTECTION RULE
Meanwhile, Mr Trump will sign an executive order on Tuesday mandating a review of an Obama-era rule aimed at protecting small streams and wetlands from development and pollution.
A senior White House official says the order will instruct the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to review a rule that redefined "waters of the United States" protected under the Clean Water Act to include smaller creeks and wetlands.
The official briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, despite the president's recent complaints about unnamed sources.
Mr Trump had railed against the water rule during his campaign, slamming it as an example of federal overreach. Farmers and landowners have criticised the rule, saying there are already too many government regulations that affect their businesses, and Republicans have been working to thwart it since its inception.
TRUMP SAYS SOME JOBS IN HIS ADMINISTRATION 'UNNECESSARY'
Mr Trump also acknowledged that there remained hundreds of unfilled jobs in his administration, but says "they're unnecessary to have."
Mr Trump said he has no intention of filling many of the open positions. "I say, 'What do all these people do?' You don't need all those jobs."
Mr Trump also said that some are looking to criticise him for eliminating those positions, but he adds, "That's not a bad thing. That's a good thing. We're running a very good, efficient government."
TRUMP SAYS CONGRESS SPEECH WILL BE 'FROM THE HEART'
With his first address to Congress tonight, Mr Trump has an opportunity to refocus his young administration on the economic issues that helped him get elected. His allies hope it will help him move beyond the distractions and self-inflicted wounds that he has dealt with so far.
Aides say his prime time address to politicians and the nation will tilt the focus back toward the type of bread and butter issues that helped win him the presidency.
"All I can do is speak from the heart and say what I want to do," Mr Trump said on Fox & Friends, according to excerpts of an interview to air ahead of his Tuesday address.
Trump's focus will be "solving real problems for real people" said a senior administration official, previewing an address centred on "economic opportunity."
Mr Trump's advisers say he will use his prime-time speech on Tuesday to declare early progress on his campaign promises, including withdrawing the US from a sweeping Pacific Rim trade pact, and to map a path ahead on thorny legislative priorities, including health care and infrastructure spending.
The White House said Mr Trump has been gathering ideas for the address from the series of listening sessions he's been holding with law enforcement officials, union representatives, coal miners and others. Aides said he was still tinkering with his speech.
- The Washington Post, news.com.au