President Trump sat down with the New York Times's Michael S. Schmidt on Thursday for a wide-ranging half-hour interview. And while he didn't make any really big news, there were plenty of worthwhile nuggets, bold claims and factual inaccuracies.
1. On special counsel Robert S. Mueller III: “It doesn’t bother me, because I hope that he’s going to be fair. I think that he’s going to be fair. ... There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair.”
This might have been the newsiest bit from the interview. Trump seemingly contradicts many of his supporters by saying he thinks Mueller will be fair. Conservative media and Republicans in Congress have spent much of the past few weeks attacking the credibility of the Mueller investigation. Trump hasn't really joined in that effort publicly, but he has attacked the FBI and the Justice Department.
2. “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department. But for purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.”
And here's the other side of the coin. In this quote, Trump seems to buy into what those same supporters have been arguing about his authority to control the Justice Department. This is a rather remarkable assertion of power, even as it's not terribly surprising from a president who clearly has some authoritarian tendencies. It seems Trump is suggesting he can do things like fire Mueller if he wants to, even as he says he thinks Mueller is being fair and as the White House denies that is even being considered.
3. “I don’t want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that — I will say this: [Eric] Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him. When you look at the IRS scandal, when you look at the guns for whatever, when you look at all of the tremendous, ah, real problems they had — not made-up problems like Russian collusion, these were real problems — when you look at the things that they did, and Holder protected the president. And I have great respect for that, I’ll be honest, I have great respect for that.”
Trump begins this quote by saying, “I don't want to get into loyalty,” but then he goes on to unmistakably suggest that Attorney General Jeff Sessions hasn't been loyal enough to him — or at least that he hasn't been as loyal as then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was to President Barack Obama. Add this to the list of quotes showing just how upset Trump remains with Sessions.
4. On 2020: “Another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there. Because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, the New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, 'Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.'”
I've long thought Trump believed this, but it's remarkable to hear him say it out loud. It's almost like he's making a case to the media for why it should help him win reelection in 2020 and/or not be too tough on him. And it's not the first time that he's said something that seems to misunderstand the media's role in American governance. Reports have long suggested Trump thought his media coverage would improve once he was elected president.
5. “Look, I like China, and I like [President Xi Jinping] a lot. But, as you know, when I campaigned, I was very tough on China in terms of trade. They made — last year, we had a trade deficit with China of $350 billion, minimum. That doesn’t include the theft of intellectual property, okay, which is another $300 billion. So, China — and you know, somebody said, 'Oh, currency manipulation.' If they’re helping me with North Korea, I can look at trade a little bit differently, at least for a period of time. And that’s what I’ve been doing. But when oil is going in, I’m not happy about that.”
This is in response to a report in a South Korean newspaper that U.S. satellites had caught Chinese ships transferring oil to North Korean vessels, in violation of United Nations sanctions imposed on Kim Jong Un's regime. It's also notable that Trump suggests he ignored issues like currency manipulation while pursuing a better relationship with China. No, it's not the first time he has suggested he was looking the other way on certain things in the name of cooperation on the North Korea issue. But Trump has also maintained that China stopped manipulating its currency. So now he's saying it didn't actually do that?
6. “I like very much President Xi. He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China.”
Perhaps a small point here, but China is more than 3,500 years old, so this is a pretty big claim even for Trump.
7. “We started taxes. And we don’t hear from the Democrats. You know, we hear bulls‑‑‑ from the Democrats. Like Joe Manchin. Joe’s a nice guy. ... But he talks. But he doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t do. 'Hey, let’s get together, let’s do bipartisan.' I say, 'Good, let’s go.' Then you don’t hear from him again. I like Joe. You know, it’s like he’s the great centrist. But he’s really not a centrist. And I think the people of West Virginia will see that. He not a centrist. … I’m the one that saved coal. I’m the one that created jobs. You know, West Virginia is doing fantastically now.”
Speaking of big claims, Trump seems to suggest he has completely turned West Virginia and the coal industry around in less than a year. Oh, and he uses the word “bulls‑‑‑" during an on-the-record interview.
8. “I know the details of taxes better than anybody — better than the greatest CPA. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have talked all these people into doing [it], ultimately only to be rejected.”
Here's Big Claim No. 3. “Better than the greatest CPA.” Trump has a history of this kind of claim.
9. On the Alabama Senate race: “I was for [Luther] Strange, and I brought Strange up 20 points. Just so you understand, when I endorsed him, he was in fifth place. He went way up. Almost 20 points. But he fell a little short. ... And by the way, when I endorsed [Roy Moore], he went up. It was a much closer race.”
The president's claims about the impact of his endorsements in Alabama have long been fanciful, but even against that backdrop, this is grandiose. While Trump has wrongly claimed that Strange shot up in the polls, saying he was in fifth place at the time of the endorsement is laughable. There were only three major candidates in the race, and when Trump endorsed Strange in early August, two of the last three polls showed him in a virtual tie for first place.
10. “And by the way, I didn’t deal with Russia. I won because I was a better candidate by a lot. I won because I campaigned properly and [Hillary Clinton] didn’t.”
This may be reading into what Trump was saying too much (especially since he tends to ramble), but “I didn't deal with Russia” sounds firmer than “There was no collusion” — Trump's usual denial. It suggests there was no contact whatsoever, rather than just that there was no cooperation or collusion.
11. On the electoral college: “It would have been a whole different thing [if the election were decided by popular vote]. The genius is that the popular vote is a much different form of campaigning. Hillary never understood that.”
First off, I completely agree with Trump that the campaign would have been run completely differently if it were decided by popular vote. It's why I think it's dumb to say Clinton was the real winner because she won the popular vote. But suggesting Clinton was campaigning for the popular vote is just ludicrous. Her campaign may have missed how much trouble they were in in Rust Belt states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, but she was campaigning in important electoral college states, too.