President Trump sat for an interview Tuesday with The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey. Below is the full transcript, with key segments highlighted for fact-checking and analysis.
Explanations appear under the paragraphs with highlighted text.
RUCKER: Thanks for taking some time with us. We wanted to start with a couple topics in the news today. Afghanistan, three troops were killed overnight in that roadside bomb. Can you explain why 17 years later we’re still there? Why are Americans still fighting there?
TRUMP: We’re there because virtually every expert that I have and speak to say if we don’t go there, they’re going to be fighting over here. And I’ve heard it over and over again. We’re in the process of doing some — you know, as you know, we are talking about peace over there with the Taliban, with the group of people that have a lot to do with it. They would like to see it after all these years, and we’ll see what happens. A little bit too early to say what’s going to happen. But we are talking about things. But it’s a very sad situation when I look — we have incredible people, incredible fighters. But we’re going to see what happens. We’re going to see what happens. But it’s very sad. I just heard about the three people this morning. Terrible.
As a candidate, Trump ran against the war there and promised to get out of it. However, as president, he has increased the number of troops.
RUCKER: Are you going to make it over there to Afghanistan?
TRUMP: At the right time I will.
RUCKER: Before Christmas, you think?
[TRUMP speaks off the record.]
DAWSEY: Last night, Mr. President, the special counsel’s team charged Paul Manafort with saying, they accused him, at least, of saying more lies, and ended his plea deal. People around you have told me you’re upset about the way he’s been treated. Are you planning to do anything to help him?
Manafort pleaded guilty when he was facing a second trial after being convicted on eight counts at his first trial. Mueller’s team has said he should be sentenced immediately.
TRUMP: Let me go off the record because I don’t want to get in the middle of the whole thing.
[Trump speaks off the record.]
DAWSEY: Is there any version of that you're willing to give us on the record in answer to that question?
TRUMP: I’d rather not. At some point, I’ll talk on the record about it. But I’d rather not.
[Trump speaks off the record.]
Trump hasn’t exactly held back on Mueller. He has, however, declined to criticize or praise Manafort too much. He previously distanced himself from Manafort’s role in his campaign, but he has also praised his (previous) unwillingness to cut a deal with Mueller.
RUCKER: Mr. President, everyone in Washington is talking about whether there is going to be a shutdown by the end of the year and what you would do to have a deal — what kind of terms you would set. And we’re wondering, what would you accept from [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell or offer to McConnell in order to get some border wall funding before the year is over?
TRUMP: We think we need it — we don’t think; we desperately need a wall —
RUCKER: But what would a deal look like?
TRUMP: I think that’s been shown better than ever in the last short period of two weeks — that we need a wall. I see the Democrats are going to want to do something, because they understand too. Those pictures are very bad for the Democrats. We’re not having a wall because of the Democrats. We need Democrat votes to have a wall. Now, if we don’t get it, will I get it done another way? I might get it done another way. There are other potential ways that I can do it. You saw what we did with the military, just coming in with the barbed wire and the fencing, and various other things.
Trump asserts that the migrant caravan headed through Mexico from Honduras was bad for Democrats. Late in the 2018 campaign, the caravan was a centerpiece of Trump’s closing strategy — but it was a strategy that seemed more geared toward saving the relatively safe Senate than keeping the more endangered House (which Republicans lost with the largest seat loss since Watergate).
RUCKER: So it’s the Democrats' fault that — what’s happening at the border over the weekend with the tear gas and the families trying to rush over?
TRUMP: No, it’s the Democrats' fault that we don’t have a wall, because they never gave us the vote. They just wouldn’t give us the vote.
We almost had a deal, except when — I mean, actually, it wasn’t their fault, wasn’t our fault, it was on DACA. We almost had a deal, and then the judge ruled shockingly in favor of Obama’s signature, when even Obama said what he’s doing is not legal. Essentially, he said, it’s not going to hold up. But when the judge ruled, all of a sudden it was like, that’s the end of that deal. But we were very close to having a deal — $25 billion for a wall and various other things on the border. And DACA. And when the judge shockingly — you know, the Democrats never thought they were going to win that, and then you had another couple of judges rule, and then you had judges rule the other way. It’s going to be settled, I assume, in the Supreme Court. But we were close to having a deal on DACA until that ruling.
It’s not clear what Trump is referring to here. Congress could have passed an immigration bill regardless of what the judge ruled on DACA — the Obama-era executive action deferring deportations for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.
DAWSEY: Is there anything specific that you would take from McConnell for — to end this fight?
TRUMP: It’s not a question of take from McConnell. McConnell is a friend of mine. We get along great. We’ve had a fantastic relationship. We’ve had a big success. We’ve had a lot of success. Hopefully today we’ll have another success [in Mississippi]; we’ll see what happens.
TRUMP: I did 4 o’clock, 9 o’clock, and one in the middle. Based on the enthusiasm we saw there, I think we’re going to do very well, but we’ll see. I know one thing: If she loses, I’ll be blamed, and if she wins, I’ll be given no credit. That’s the only thing I know.
But anyway, do you guys want something to drink?
DAWSEY: We’re okay, thank you.
TRUMP: Go ahead.
DAWSEY: You said yesterday when you were leaving that you were skeptical of a climate change report that the government had done. Can you just explain why you're skeptical of that report?
TRUMP: One of the problems that a lot of people like myself — we have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers. You look at our air and our water, and it’s right now at a record clean. But when you look at China and you look at parts of Asia and when you look at South America, and when you look at many other places in this world, including Russia, including — just many other places — the air is incredibly dirty. And when you’re talking about an atmosphere, oceans are very small. And it blows over and it sails over. I mean, we take thousands of tons of garbage off our beaches all the time that comes over from Asia. It just flows right down the Pacific, it flows, and we say where does this come from. And it takes many people to start off with.
Few Trump quotes have epitomized him like this one. He has been skeptical of U.S. intelligence, the judiciary, the legal system, climate change, and many other institutions and other sources of expertise.
TRUMP: Number two, if you go back and if you look at articles, they talked about global freezing, they talked about at some point the planets could have freeze to death, then it’s going to die of heat exhaustion. There is movement in the atmosphere. There’s no question. As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it — not nearly like it is. Do we want clean water? Absolutely. Do we want clean air to breathe? Absolutely. The fire in California, where I was, if you looked at the floor, the floor of the fire, they have trees that were fallen, they did no forest management, no forest maintenance, and you can light — you can take a match like this and light a tree trunk when that thing is laying there for more than 14 or 15 months. And it’s a massive problem in California.
This claim has been put forward by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. It got four Pinocchios from The Washington Post’s Fact Checker.
DAWSEY: So you’re saying you don’t see the —
TRUMP: Josh, you go to other places where they have denser trees — it’s more dense, where the trees are more flammable — they don’t have forest fires like this, because they maintain. And it was very interesting, I was watching the firemen, and they’re raking brush — you know the tumbleweed and brush, and all this stuff that’s growing underneath. It’s on fire, and they’re raking it, working so hard, and they’re raking all this stuff. If that was raked in the beginning, there’d be nothing to catch on fire. It’s very interesting to see. A lot of the trees, they took tremendous burn at the bottom, but they didn’t catch on fire. The bottom is all burned but they didn’t catch on fire because they sucked the water, they’re wet. You need forest management, and they don’t have it.
Trump previously lodged an odd theory, citing Finland, about how raking brush in forests could prevent forest fires. Finland dismissed the idea, but here Trump expands upon his odd ideas about how such things could be avoided.
RUCKER: Mr. President, there’s a lot of economic news, too.
TRUMP: Yes, we’ve got a lot of news there.
RUCKER: The gains from the past year in the stock market, many of them, there’s been a correction. GM is closing some of its plants, laying off a lot of their workers. You said when you campaigned in Michigan that none of the plants would close, and now one of them will —
TRUMP: No, no, but we have plants moving in, too. We do.
RUCKER: — So what are you going to do about this, and are you nervous about a recession occurring?
TRUMP: No, I’m not because what I’m doing is I’m doing trade deals. The trade deals take a little time. The fact is, I think — I disagree with the Fed. I’ve been open about that. I think the Fed is a much bigger problem than China. I think that China wants to make a deal very badly. I think we’ll either make a deal or we’ll be taking in billions and billions of dollars a month in tariffs, and I’m okay with either one of those two situations. But I can tell you that China wants to make a deal. I can tell you that other countries want to make deals because they know that I’m not playing around. The USMCA was a very well-received deal. That got done, and a lot of people said it wouldn’t get done. We’re making great trade deals. We lose $800 billion a year with trade.
RUCKER: So who should be held responsible? You mentioned the Fed, but when Harry Truman sat here he had that sign that said the buck stops here —
TRUMP: Oh, I’m not blaming anybody.
RUCKER: — But Mr. President, it doesn’t seem to stop with you.
TRUMP: I’m not blaming — look, I took recommendations. I’m not blaming anybody. But I will tell you, at this moment in time I am not at all happy with the Fed. I am not at all happy with my choice. I think we have to let it go. You know, if you look at — China is being accommodative. The euro and Europe is being accommodative. We’re not getting any accommodation, and we’re also paying $50 billion, we’re paying down our liquidity, is — you can make the case it’s a positive thing in one way, but another thing, it snaps your liquidity. So I’m doing deals, and I’m not being accommodated by the Fed. I’m not happy with the Fed. They’re making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.
RUCKER: But you’re the president, sir.
TRUMP: I’m not blaming anybody.
TRUMP: I’m just saying, I’m not happy with the Fed. So far, I’m not even a little bit happy with my selection of Jay [Powell for Federal Reserve Board chair]. Not even a little bit.
DAWSEY: Mr. President, you’re —
TRUMP: And I’m not blaming anybody, but I’m just telling you I think that the Fed is way off base with what they’re doing, number one. Number two, a positive note, we’re doing very well on trade, we’re doing very well — our companies are very strong. Don’t forget, we’re still up from when I came in, 38 percent or something. You know, it’s a tremendous — it’s not like we’re up — and we’re much stronger. And we’re much more liquid. And the banks are now much more liquid during my tenure. And I’m not doing — I’m not playing by the same rules as Obama. Obama had zero interest to worry about; we’re paying interest, a lot of interest. He wasn’t paying down — we’re talking about $50 billion lots of different times, paying down and knocking out liquidity. Well, Obama didn’t do that. And just so you understand, I’m playing a normalization economy, whereas he’s playing a free economy. It’s easy to make money when you’re paying no interest. It’s easy to make money when you’re not doing any pay-downs, so you can’t — and despite that, the numbers we have are phenomenal numbers.
1) On the Fed, Trump is drawing an extremely fine line — if the line even exists — between repeatedly citing the Fed’s interest rate decisions in the context of bad economic news and blaming it for that. If he’s not blaming it, though, why keep citing it?
2) Trump routinely complained about the Fed’s interest rate being at zero percent (it was effectively zero, but not quite) under Obama and having been raised under him. The Obama-era rate was in response to the recovery from the recession that Obama inherited. The improving state of the economy has led the Fed to increase the interest rate.
DAWSEY: Mr. President, your national security team is going to the Hill tomorrow to brief senators on Saudi Arabia and Jamal Khashoggi. I’ve heard from Senator [Lindsey O.] Graham, who I know you were with yesterday, and others, that they want stronger punishment on Saudi Arabia, tougher sanctions. Do you want them to impose that, or do you think that would be deleterious to our — ?
TRUMP: I’m going to listen to what they say. They’re all friends of mine, and I get along with them great. I’m going to certainly listen to what they have to say, Josh. In the end, though, they’re spending massive amounts of billions of dollars. If you look at Iran and what they do, and you look at many other countries — I don’t have to embarrass other countries by saying it — if you look at what they do, it’s a rough part of the world. It’s a dangerous, rough part of the world. But they’ve been a great ally. Without them, Israel would be in a lot more trouble. We need to have a counterbalance to Iran. I know him. I know him well, the crown prince. And, by the way, never did business with them, never intend to do business with them. I couldn’t care less. This is a very important job that I’m doing right now. The last thing I care about is doing business with people. I only do business for us. Somebody said, well, maybe they’re an investor in one of his jobs. The answer is no. But I just feel that it’s very, very important to maintain that relationship. It’s very important to have Saudi Arabia as an ally, if we’re going to stay in that part of the world. Now, are we going to stay in that part of the world? One reason to is Israel. Oil is becoming less and less of a reason because we’re producing more oil now than we’ve ever produced. So, you know, all of a sudden it gets to a point where you don’t have to stay there.
This echoes much of what Trump has said previously about reasons for taking it easy on Saudi Arabia. But it’s notable that he makes the case that the United States may not have such an incentive to keep such allies in the Middle East.
That could be read as him suggesting he has no choice, but it could also be read as a warning to Saudi Arabia that its leverage may not be permanent.
RUCKER: Sir, do you hope to meet with the crown prince when you’re in Argentina at the G-20 later this week?
TRUMP: Well, it’s not scheduled, but I certainly would. But it is not scheduled.
RUCKER: And why have you taken his denials for ordering the killing of our colleague, Jamal Khashoggi —
TRUMP: I haven’t taken anything.
RUCKER: — over the evidence that the intelligence community has gathered?
TRUMP: Phil, I haven’t done that. If you look at my statement, it’s maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. But he denies it. And people around him deny it. And the CIA did not say affirmatively he did it, either, by the way. I’m not saying that they’re saying he didn’t do it, but they didn’t say it affirmatively. I’m saying this: We have $52-a-barrel oil right now and I called them about three months ago, before this whole thing happened with Khashoggi, and I let him have it about oil. We were up to $82 — probably two and a half months ago — we were up to $82 a barrel, and it was going up to $100, and that would’ve been like a massive tax increase, and I didn’t want that. And I called them and they let the oil start flowing, and we’re at $52. In fact, now I’m being blamed for traffic jams. This was the greatest. Actually in the Palm Beach Post, they had a thing that I’m causing traffic jams because they have the —
Here, Trump takes direct credit for the falling price of oil, which is an extremely bold claim. The math on oil prices is complex and based on many factors besides political pressure. It’s also not a function of any one country’s leaders.
DAWSEY: I wondered what paper that was. I saw you tweeted that.
TRUMP: It’s the Palm Beach Post.
SARAH SANDERS: Guys, we have just maybe one more question.
RUCKER: Sir, you just said, maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but are you getting the best advice and the best information from the intelligence community and on the climate issue from your experts in the government, because you’re doubting what they’re saying?
TRUMP: Phil, I’m getting advice. I’m the president of this country. I have to do what’s the best for our country. We have a very important ally in Saudi Arabia. We have an ally that has tremendous oil reserves, which are — frankly, they can make prices go up and down, and I want to keep them down. We have an ally that’s investing billions and billions of dollars in our country. They could very easily invest $110 billion, $450 billion overall over a period of time, fairly short period of time. $110 billion in military. Russia and China would love to have those orders, and they’ll get them if we don’t. They’ll have no choice, but they’ll get them if we don’t. So I take everything into consideration, and again, he totally denies it, and he denied it to me on three different occasions, on three different calls, and a lot of other people deny it, too. Did he do it? As I said, maybe he did and maybe he didn’t, but in the meantime Saudi Arabia’s spending billions and billions of dollars in the United States, and I want them to spend it here. I don’t want them to spend it in China and Russia.
The Washington Post Fact Checker has ruled that these numbers are fantasy.
DAWSEY: You’re scheduled to meet again with Vladimir Putin at the G-20. Do you think he was within his rights to challenge the Ukrainian ships? Do you —
TRUMP: I am getting a report on that tonight, and that will determine what happens at the meeting. I’m getting a full report on that tonight. That will be very determinative. Maybe I won’t have the meeting. Maybe I won’t even have the meeting. We’re going to see. But depending on what comes out tonight, we should have a pretty good indication on exactly what happened tonight at about 6 o’clock.
RUCKER: Should that aggression concern people here?
TRUMP: I don't like that aggression. I don't like that aggression at all. Absolutely. And by the way, Europe shouldn't like that aggression. And Germany shouldn't like that aggression. You know they're paying 1 percent, and they're supposed to be paying much more than 1 percent.
RUCKER: So are they not doing enough?
TRUMP: They’re absolutely not doing enough. Germany? Absolutely not. Many of those countries are not doing enough toward NATO. They should be spending much more money.
Trump seems to momentarily repudiate what Russia is doing — but then quickly changes the subject to NATO funding.
RUCKER: I know we’re short on time, but we would just love to get your thoughts on the acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, over at the Justice Department.
TRUMP: He’s a fine person.
RUCKER: Has he been fully briefed on the Mueller investigation, the status of that?
TRUMP: That I don’t know.
RUCKER: And has he talked to you about it?
TRUMP: I can tell you that Matt Whitaker is a respected man. He’s doing an excellent job. We’re looking at possible attorney generals right now. And within — I will tell you, within the Justice Department he is a highly respected person, and he’s doing a very good job. I also think he’s a very good person. I think he’s a very good person. And he had a reputation for being — I think he was six years in Iowa as the U.S. attorney. He had a reputation for being very strong, very smart, very good.
DAWSEY: Has he talked to you about the Mueller investigation at all?
TRUMP: We don’t talk very much. I mean, I haven’t spoken to Matt very much. I put him there. But we speak really very little. The Mueller investigation is what it is. It just goes on and on and on.
Trump is given two chances to say whether he has talked to Whitaker about the Mueller investigation. And he punts both times.
RUCKER: Would you commit right here to letting Mueller continue his work until the investigation concludes?
TRUMP: This question has been asked about me now for —
KELLYANNE CONWAY: A thousand times.
TRUMP: — almost two years. And in the meantime, he’s still there. He wouldn’t have to be, but he’s still there, so I have no intention of doing anything.
SANDERS: All right. Thanks, guys.
TRUMP: Okay? Thank you, fellas.