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Friday, July 21 Local

Trump lashes out at ‘naysayers,’ media in Coast Guard speech

NEW LONDON — A defiant Donald Trump got a reprieve Wednesday from the chaos and palace intrigue of Washington, welcoming aboard the newest crop of U.S. Coast Guard officers as commander in chief.

The president gave a 28-minute commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy, a time-honored tradition dating back to Lyndon B. Johnson.

Trump’s first visit to Connecticut as president drew protests and cheers in New London, a former whaling city in the southeastern corner of the state.

It coincided with a rocky stretch for Trump, who has faced intense criticism for last week’s firing of FBI director James Comey and new allegations that Trump tried to squash an investigation into Russia’s interference in the election. And is was announced Wednesday that the Justice Department has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee its investigation of possible Russian collusion.

Trump pivoted in New London from humorous commencement speaker to the blustery campaigner, blaming the media for his growing pains.

President Donald Trump, who's constantly in the midst of his own swirling controversies, advised United States Coast Guard Academy graduates that while things aren't always fair, they have to put their head down and "fight, fight, fight." The comment appeared clearly in reference to the questions about his treatment of FBI Director James Comey, along with the coverage of his attempt to get him to stop an inquiry into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Media: WochIt Media

“No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly,” Trump said. “You can’t let them get you down, you can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.”

Trump disputed that his presidency has been bogged down by controversy, from its rollout of the travel ban for Muslim-majority countries to its Kremlin ties.

“I have accomplished a tremendous amount in a very short time as president,” Trump boomed. “Jobs are pouring back into our country. A brand new Supreme Court justice is going to be fantastic for 45 years. A historic investment in our military. Border crossings are down more than 70 percent in just a short period of time, a total record, by the way, by a lot. We’ve saved the Second Amendment (and) expanded service for our veterans.”

Nod to the governor

Joining Trump on the dais was Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, an unrelenting critic of the president on the Affordable Care Act repeal, deportation rules for undocumented immigrations and the rollback of environmental regulations from the Obama administration. Malloy removed his sunglasses before the two shook hands.

Trump thanked Malloy for participating in the ceremony and briefly alluded to the state’s budget crisis.

“I know how busy the governors are nowadays,” Trump said. “You’re out there fighting. It’s never easy. budgets are a little tight.”

Malloy did not speak and left immediately after the ceremony to return to budget negotiations in Hartford.

Connecticut’s two U.S. senators, Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, skipped Trump’s visit. Both cited the Senate being in session Wednesday, with votes on the calendar.

Murphy took to Twitter Tuesday to assail Trump’s conduct as president.

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“Just leaving Senate floor. Lots of chatter from Ds and Rs about the exact definition of ‘obstruction of justice,’ ” Murphy tweeted.

Air Force One arrived at Groton-New London Airport around 10:35 a.m. From there it was short ride for the presidential limousine, “the Beast,” and the rest of the motorcade to Cadet Memorial Field, where Trump was flanked by saluting cadets during his entrance. Interstate 95 was briefly shut down for the president’s arrival and departure.

There was a dearth of the ubiquitous “Make America Great Again” red caps in the capacity crowd — the stadium holds 4,500 people.

Colin Harrington, 21, a Bentley College student from neighboring Waterford, wore one.

“It’s funny that there’s so many protesters in such a small city,” Harrington said. “No matter what, I will always be supportive of the president.”

Harrington said it’s premature to write-off Trump’s presidency and expressed his support for Comey’s firing.

“From both sides, we’re getting some fake news,” Harrington said. “I think Comey had to go. It was time.”

Support and protest

Trump posed for photos with each of the 195 newly commissioned Coast Guard officers as they received their diplomas. Some locals said that was a departure from some previous presidents, who skipped out of the ceremony immediately after their speeches.

The military families in the crowd occasionally interrupted Trump with applause and gave him a standing ovation at the end of his remarks.

“I guess that’s why we won,” he said. “Adversity makes you stronger. Don’t give in, don’t back down and never stop doing what you know is right,” Trump said.

Outside the main gates of the academy, a demonstrator held up a sign that said, “Make Russia Great Again.” Another held up a red iron-cross flag like those identified with pre-Nazi Germany.

Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly introduced Trump.

“Take care of your people,” Kelly advised. “Tell the truth.”

This was Trump’s second graduation speech of his presidency. Last Saturday, he appeared at Liberty University, a Christian college in Lynchburg, Va.

Trump’s last foray into Connecticut came last August, when the New York billionaire made a rare general election campaign appearance at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield in triple-digit weather. Temperatures were over 80 degrees Wednesday, and at least two spectators overcome by heat were removed on stretchers.

The first president to do the honors at the Coast Guard commencement was Johnson, in 1964. It wasn’t until Ronald Reagan that a sitting president returned. George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama each carried on the tradition, with Obama sending off Coast Guard ensigns in 2011 and 2015. In between, Vice President Joe Biden did the honors in 2013.

Trump overwhelmingly won Connecticut’s GOP primary a year ago April over Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. He went on to lose the state and its seven electoral votes in the general election to Hillary Clinton.

Admiral Paul Zukunft, the Coast Guard commandant, boasted that academy outmuscled its military counterparts to land Trump as graduation speaker.

“You are going to be military leaders in a world that has storms on many fronts,” he said.

nvigdor@hearstmediact.com; 203-625-4436; http://twitter.com/gettinviggy

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