President Donald Trump kicked off his re-election campaign’s financing efforts with a major fundraiser at his own Washington hotel Wednesday night, excluding media but charging attendees $35,000 each.

While the president may have barred reporters from the closed-door Republican National Committee gathering, his battle with the press wasn’t far from his mind. During his speech, according to audio of the event published here by The Intercept, he singled out CNN, asking the audience whether he ought to sue what he described as “horrible human beings.”

Trump drew loud applause with his suggestion that he was prevailing in his campaign against the cable news network. “Boy, did CNN get killed over the last few days,” he said. Last week, CNN retracted a story about a Trump ally’s tied to a Russian bank; three of the network’s journalists resigned in the wake of the flap.

Trump then focused his attention on CNN commentator Van Jones, whom Trump noted was recently captured on secretly recorded audio calling the story of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia a “nothing burger,” as well as CNN network president Jeff Zucker.

“Van Jones — you see this man?” Trump said. “These are really dishonest people. Should I sue them? I mean, they’re phonies. Jeff Zucker, I hear he’s going to resign at some point pretty soon. I mean these are horrible human beings.”

“It’s a shame what they’ve done to the name CNN, that I can tell you,” Trump went on, riffing on taking the network to court. “But as far as I’m concerned, I love it. If anybody’s a lawyer in the house and thinks I have a good lawsuit — I feel like we do. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

Trump addressed recent political developments and his coming agenda, promising tax cuts and a strengthened military. On health care, Trump was less than enthusiastic about the chance of success for the congressional Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“I think we’re going to have a good shot,” Trump said of the repeal effort, using the opportunity to bash the ACA, citing rising health insurance premiums. Democrats, Trump said, are “stuck with Obamacare,” which he said was “dead” and a “disaster.”

In typical fashion, Trump took the opportunity to praise his own record throughout his remarks, boasting of decreased border crossing figures by immigrants and a string of special congressional election victories. “I don’t think anybody as president has done as much in the first five months,” he claimed.

During the speech, Trump made light of rapidly escalating tensions in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have led a coalition of Arab countries in an effort to isolate their Persian Gulf neighbor, Qatar. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has attempted to mediate the dispute in recent days.

“We’re having a dispute with Qatar — we’re supposed to say Qatar,” Trump said Wednesday night, mocking the pronunciation of the country’s name. “It’s Qatar, they prefer. I prefer that they don’t fund terrorism.”

Listen to the audio here:

Richard Eskow, host of the Zero Hour with RJ Eskow, contributed reporting.


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