Donald Trump said he doesn’t feel that he’s done anything to energize the alt-right movement in a meeting with the New York Times on Tuesday.
“I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group,” the president-elect said, according to a tweet from Times writer Mike Grynbaum. He added: “If they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why.”
Trump added that public outcry about Stephen Bannon’s appointment to chief White House strategist was “hard” on Bannon. Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, has given voice to racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic and sexist views through Breitbart.
“If I thought he was a racist or alt-right or any of the things, the terms we could use, I wouldn’t even think about hiring him,” he said in response to a question from executive editor Dean Baquet, according to a tweet from Grynbaum. “I think it’s very hard on him. I think he’s having a hard time with it. Because it’s not him.”
The president-elect’s meeting with the New York Times came after he initially announced he had cancelled the scheduled meeting because the Times had changed its terms—something the newspaper said it had not done.
On Tuesday afternoon, Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Baquet and a group of editors and reporters met with Trump and his team, including Reince Priebus and Kellyanne Conway.
During the sit-down meeting, Trump said he had “tremendous respect” for the newspaper and that he thinks he’s “been treated very rough,” by media coverage of his campaign, especially from the Times. Grynbaum tweeted that Trump’s remarks about his “rough” treatment lasted about 4 minutes.
Asked by the Times about whether he would “open up” libel laws, as he has previously threatened, Trump said someone told him, “You know, YOU might be sued a lot more.’ I said, ‘you know, I hadn’t thought of that,'” according to Grynbaum. He also said “I think you’ll be happy,” when questioned about his attitude toward the First Amendment.
Regarding world affairs, Trump told the Times that he has a “different view than everybody else” on Syria. “Syria, we have to solve that problem,” he said.
Trump also suggested his son-in-law Jared Kushner could help make peace between Israelis and Palestinians, according to a tweet from Times Washington bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller.