In a wide-ranging interview with The New York Times published Friday, President Trump discussed everything from fake news to the 2020 election.
After declining a dinner invitation from the president, Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger requested an on-the-record interview alongside two of the papers White House correspondents. Here are five key takeaways.
Trump expects to take unilateral action on the border wall when talks officially end in two weeks. Calling the wait a “waste of time,” Trump hinted he is considering declaring a national emergency to get funding for the wall. “I’ve set the table. I’ve set the stage for doing what I’m going to do,” he said.
And Trump believes he has mostly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to blame for the wait. “I’ve actually always gotten along with her, but now I don’t think I will anymore,” he said. “I think she is doing a tremendous disservice to the country. If she doesn’t approve a wall, the rest of it’s just a waste of money and time and energy because it’s desperately needed.”
Despite alleging that he has “lost massive amounts of money doing this job,” Trump noted that he “loves” being president and doesn’t expect to face a Republican challenger in 2020. “I don’t see it,” he said. “I have great support in the party.”
But Trump also had thoughts on the increasingly crowded Democratic field. Trump claimed that the party has “really drifted far left,” pointing in particular to candidates like Elizabeth Warren, who he said has been “hurt very badly with the Pocahontas trap.” While he called “some of” the other candidates “very flat,” Trump did appear to have positive words for Kamala Harris.
“I would say the best opening so far would be Kamala Harris,” he said. “I would say in terms of the opening act, I would say, would be her.”
On all matters concerning special counsel Mueller’s investigation, The Times characterized Trump’s approach as “nothing-to-see-here.”
Trump claimed that departing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “told the attorneys that I’m not a subject, I’m not a target” of the investigations. Neither Rosenstein nor Mueller have disclosed whether Trump is a target.
On whether he ever spoke with Roger Stone about WikiLeaks and the stolen Democratic emails, Trump simply said, “No, I didn’t. I never did” nor did he direct anyone to speak to Stone on his behalf. But he did have kind words for Stone.
“I’ve always liked—I like Roger, he’s a character,” Trump said. But Trump suggested that it “was a very sad thing for this country” that FBI agents entered his house “like they did at six o’clock in the morning.”
While Trump defended his decisions on Syria and Afghanistan, noting that he “got elected on saying we’re getting out of these endless wars,” he refused to take the military option off the table in the case of Venezuela.
The journalists prodded why Trump chose to leave the option open for Venezuela and “not 100 other countries” to which Trump replied, “I’m just saying this: Terrible things are going on. Terrible things are going on in Venezuela.”
Turning back to the Middle East, Trump claimed that “a lot of improvement has been made in Saudi Arabia,” but that in Iran, “they kill many, many people.” Trump acknowledged that the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a “terrible event,” “terrible tragedy,” and “terrible crime,” but highlighted the economic importance of Saudi Arabia. “They’re a country that pays us a tremendous amount of money, creates a tremendous amount of jobs,” he claimed.
Sulzberger raised the issue of fake news with Trump, pointing to how the term popularized by the president has been used as a means to justify suppressing an independent media, in some cases putting the lives of journalists at risk.
Acknowledging this point, Trump simply noted, “I don’t like that. I mean I don’t like that” before doubling down on the media’s portrayal of him. “I do think it’s very bad for a country when the news is not accurately portrayed,” he said. “I really do. And I believe I’m a victim of that, honestly.”
Sulzberger then noted that “the occupants of your office historically have been the greatest defenders of the free press, to which Trump replied, “And I think I am too. I want to be.”
Ultimately, however, Trump expressed an entitlement to positive coverage in his local paper. “I came from Jamaica, Queens, Jamaica Estates, and I became president of the United States. I’m sort of entitled to a great story—just one—from my newspaper.”