President Trump was in rare form Thursday. In a lengthy Q&A with reporters after an event on combating surprise medical bills, Trump took questions on the Mueller report, on a Senate GOP chairman’s subpoena of his son Donald Trump Jr., on North Korea and on other topics.
Many of the claims have been fact-checked as false — and some of them were offered in quick succession. Others were new and raised questions about what Trump has been doing behind the scenes.
Below is the transcript, with annotations and analysis/fact-checking in yellow.
Mr. President, on the North Korean missiles, what message do you take from that (INAUDIBLE)?
Well, we’re looking at it very seriously right now. They were smaller missiles, short-range missiles. Nobody’s happy about it. But we’re taking a good look, and we’ll see, we’ll see. The relationship continues, but we’ll see what happens. I know they want to negotiate. They’re talking about negotiating, but I don’t think they’re ready to negotiate because we have to either do — it’s very much like China. The vice premier is coming here today. We were getting very close to a deal, then they started to renegotiate the deal. We can’t have that. We can’t have that. So our country can take in $120 billion a year in tariffs, paid for mostly by China, by the way, not by us — a lot of people try and steer it in a different direction. It’s really paid for — ultimately it’s paid for by — largely by China. And businesses will pour back into our country, so instead of making the products, it’ll be the old-fashioned way, the way we used to do it. We made our own product. And I think things are going along pretty well there, but a large group delegation headed by one of the most respective respected men and highest officials of China will be coming in today.
They start at 5:00, and they’ll see what they can do, but our alternative is — is an excellent one. It’s an alternative I’ve spoken about for years. We’ll take in well over $100 billion a year. We never took in $0.10 from China, not $0.10. And it will be a — I think it’ll be a very strong day, frankly. But we’ll see. We’ll see. It was their idea to come back.
Do you have plans to talk to President Xi, or no, not yet?
Well, he just wrote me a beautiful letter. I just received it and I’ll probably speak to him by phone. But look, we have two great alternatives. Our country is doing fantastically well. Our numbers at 3.2. Don’t forget, 3.2 — the first quarter is always by far the worst quarter or at least almost always. You look back over the years, first quarter’s always weak, and we had 3.2 GDP.
Our unemployment numbers are the best in the history of our country, and we are doing well. And our companies are really doing well. Even in Ohio, the great state of Ohio yesterday, General Motors at my very strong urging, to put it mildly, very strong urging, I wasn’t even nice about it, but I appreciate what they did, they sold the — the beautiful plant, Lordstown. They sold that beautiful plant to a very, very good company that’s going to make electric trucks.
And that worked because that was the only thing they could say about our whole economy. Lordstown. They kept saying Lordstown, Lordstown. And when you had all of these great companies spending billions and billions of dollars coming into our country, they couldn’t talk about it. They’d only mentioned the one plant that was a GM plant from a very long time ago. And now we have a great company going in going to make electric trucks. Very appropriate. Interesting idea, actually. Electric trucks. Yes, please.
Will you allow Robert Mueller to testify to Congress?
Well, I’m going to leave that up to our very great attorney general, and he’ll make a decision on that. But I will say this, look, the Mueller report came out, it was done at I guess I’m hearing numbers now close to $40 million with 17 or 18 very angry Democrats who hated Donald Trump and also everything that they could possibly have at their disposal.
There was nobody that was in the history of our country more transparent than me. I said give them every document, give them every person. Let the White House counsel testify. I think he testified for 30 hours. I guess they must have asked him the same question because there wasn't very much to testify about. But I said let him testify and let him — keep him as long as you want.
Actually, when I heard 30 hours, I said that’s a long time, but I let him testify. I didn’t have to. I have presidential privilege. I could’ve stopped everything. I didn’t have to give them a document. I gave them 1.5 million documents. I gave them White House counsel, I gave them other law — anybody you want, you can talk to. At the end of the testimony, no collusion and essentially, no obstruction.
Of course, a lot of people say how can you obstruct when there was no crime, when there was no collusion, how can you possibly obstruct? I'll tell you, but it's worse than that. It's not only was there no crime, but the crime was committed on the other side. So we are protecting against the crime committed on the other side. So after spending all of that money, all of that time, two years, they come up with a report.
And Bob Mueller is no friend of mine. I had conflicts with him. We had a business dispute, we had somebody that is in love with James Comey. We like James Comey. They were very good friends, supposedly best friends. Maybe not, but supposedly best friends. You look at the picture file, and you see hundreds of pictures of him and Comey. And with all of that and other things, he wanted the FBI job. I don’t know if anybody knows that, but as you know, he was considered for the FBI job, wanted it, and the day after he didn’t get it, he became the special counsel. That’s a conflict. And we had other things, but those are tremendous conflicts.
Listen to this. Your judge, call him a judge, is — has a business dispute with me. Your judge has a fantastic relationship with James Comey. Well, he’s a part of this. He lied to Congress, he leaked — he’s a liar, a leaker. And your judge has a situation where he wanted to become the FBI director. We chose Director Wray instead and told him I’m sorry. That’s — those are tremendous conflicts. Those are tremendous conflicts.
And then he puts on his staff almost all Democrats, many of whom contributed to Hillary Clinton. None of them contributed to me. That I can tell you. And it started out at 13, and it went to 18. And these were angry Democrats. These were people that went to her, in one case, went to her what was supposed to be a party and turned out to be a funeral on election evening and was going wild. He was so angry. And this man now is judging me. You had other people made big contributions to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. They were angry Democrats in, I think, almost all cases.
One of the people worked on the Clinton foundation as just about the top person at the Clinton foundation. With all of this, they came back no collusion. There is nobody in this room including you if they were — that’s you, John. If we looked at you with $40 million, 18 angry people that hated you and all of the other things I mentioned, they’ll find something. I don’t know, maybe John, not. Go ahead, finish up.
But Mr. Mueller is also friends with Mr. Barr. And as you’re aware, Mr. Barr told lawmakers that he didn’t have a problem with Mr. — with Mr. Mueller testifying.
I’m going to leave that up to the attorney general as to whether or not — I think to me it looks like a redo. Here’s what happened, the report comes back, it’s perfect. It’s beautiful. There’s no collusion. Nobody even talks about collusion. You know, I haven’t heard the word “Russia” in a long time. There’s no more talk about Russia. What happened to Russia? The Russian witchhunt — they don’t talk because it was so on collusion, which by the way, is by far — that’s the big deal because it was all about Russia. So I haven’t heard the word “Russia.” They don’t use the word “Russia” anymore.
So there's no crime. There know what never was a crime. It was a hoax. It was a witchhunt. So this comes back, and it comes back totally exonerating Donald Trump and a lot of other people. This was a terrible thing that happened to our country.
Now I’ll tell you what they are asking. They are asking about how did this whole thing start. That’s what people want to know, and I want to tell you, I had a — an event last night. A lot of you were there. Thousands and thousands of people standing in a field. They’ve never seen anything like it, meaning even the press. But it’s always that way. We’ve never had an empty seat. Thousands of people last night. You know what they want to know? How did this whole thing start. It’s going to be hard for them to answer that one. Yeah, please.
Mr. President, are you satisfied with the advice you received from John Bolton?
Yeah, John is very good. John is a — he has strong views on things, but that's okay. I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing, isn't it?
Nobody thought that was going to happen. I’m the one that tempers him. But that’s okay. I have different sides. I mean, I have John Bolton and I have other people that are a little more dovish than him. And ultimately, I make the decision. No, I get — I like John, I get very good advice from John. John?
Mr. President, as you saw, the Senate Intelligent Committee has subpoenaed Don Jr. That’s the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Community. What you make of that?
Well, I was very surprised. I saw Richard Burr saying there was no collusion to or three weeks ago. He went outside and somebody asked him. No, there’s no collusion. We found no collision. But I was very surprised to see my son. My son is a very good person, works very hard. The last thing he needs is Washington, DC. I think he’d rather not ever be involved.
Remember he said to me a long time ago when I was thinking about running: Dad, if I can help, let me know. It’s not my expertise, it’s not something I really like, but whatever I can do, you’re my father. Whatever I can do. He’s now testified for 20 hours or something. A massive amount of time. The Mueller report came out. That’s the Bible. The Mueller report came out, and they said he did nothing wrong. The only thing is, it’s oppo research. If he did wrong, then everybody standing with me probably, except for John, and Lamar, I think Lamar is pretty — I’ll tell you, did you ever do oppo research on an opponent? I don’t think so, Lamar, right?
And I know John Barrasso never did opposition research because he’s a fine, fine man. But I would say 99 percent of the rest of the folks are — so they didn’t — but what they didn’t discuss is this woman that came in who I watched her on the “Today” show when it all started. Oh, I’m just an innocent. Well, nobody even knows. Although the halls of Congress know her very well, because for years she’s walked around all over the Congress.
She came in and she left supposedly GPS Fusion, goes and meets for short period of time with my son and some other people, they talk about a subject as very well, you know, advertised and put out, which is nothing, it was a nothing meeting. In fact, Jared left. He said, “Get me out of this meeting. This is a waste of time.” She then went back to GPS Fusion. They were the ones that wrote the phony dossier. Why was she going to GPS Fusion? Why did she go back?
Then I heard that Don, for a year, made three phone calls with an unmarked number. They called it unmarked. And this was a tremendous event, because they all knew — the fake news, they all — no, you were fair on that, John. But they all knew that these phone calls, these — these tremendous phone calls before the meeting and after the meeting — there were, I believe, three, right? They all knew that it had to be to his father. Unmarked, it's perfect.
So, he reported about the meeting and then reported what happened at the meeting, except after looking and spending a tremendous amount of time and money, they were able to go back years and find out who made the calls. One was a local real estate developer. The other was a great person from NASCAR. He took two of them, and a friend of Don's.
This went on for a year and a half. John, you heard all about the phone calls to obviously the father, where I knew — I never knew about the meeting. But the phone calls to the father turned out not to be the phone calls.
My son is a good person. My son testified for hours and hours. My son was totally exonerated by Mueller, who frankly does not like Donald Trump, me, this Donald Trump. And, frankly, for my son, after being exonerated, to now get a subpoena to go again and speak again after close to 20 hours of telling everybody that would listen about a nothing meeting, yeah, I’m pretty surprised.
Should he fight that subpoena?
We'll see what happens. I'm just very surprised, I really am, by it.
What did Iran do to prompt you to send an aircraft carrier to the, the region?
Well, they were threatening, and we have information —
— Is there a risk — is there a risk —
— We have information that you don't want to know about. They were very threatening, and we just want to have — we have to have great security for this country and for a lot of other places.
Is there a risk of military confrontation, sir?
I guess you could say that always, right? Isn't it, I mean, you know, always? I don't want to say no, but hopefully that won't happen. We have one of the most powerful ships in the world that's loaded up, and we don't want to have to do anything.
What I’d like to see — with Iran, I’d like to see them call me. You know, John Kerry speaks to them a lot. John Kerry tells them not to call. That’s a violation of the Logan Act. And frankly, he should be prosecuted on that. But my people don’t want to do anything that’s — only the Democrats do that kind of stuff, you know? If it were the opposite way, they’d prosecute him under the Logan Act.
But John Kerry violated the Logan Act. He’s talking to Iran and has been, has many meetings and many phone calls. And he’s telling them what to do. That is a total violation of the Logan Act, because what they should be doing is — their economy is a mess ever since I took away the Iran deal. They have inflation that’s the highest number I’ve ever heard. They are having riots every weekend and during the week even.
And what they should be doing is calling me up, sitting down. We can make a deal, a fair deal. We just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons, not too much to ask. And we would help put them back into great shape. They’re in bad shape right now. I look forward to the day where we can actually help Iran. We’re not looking to hurt Iran. I want them to be strong and great and have a great economy.
But they’re listening to John Kerry, whose violated a very important element of what he’s supposed to be doing. He violated the Logan Act, plain and simple. He shouldn’t be doing that. But they should call, and if they do, we’re open to talk to them. We have no secrets. And they can be very, very strong financially. They have great potential, very much like North Korea.
North Korea has tremendous potential economically. And I don't think he's going to blow that. I don't think so.
Can I circle back to trade just for a second?
Is it still possible to get a trade deal with the Chinese this week, or is it —
— It's possible —
— You've never said —
— They're all here. Look, the vice premier, who's one of the most respected men, one of the highest officials in China, is coming. You know, you heard he wasn't coming. He's coming.
I will say this. Once the tariffs went on, they upped the meeting. It was supposed to take place originally on Thursday. Then about five weeks ago they said how about Friday, how about next week? I said what’s this all about? And I said that’s okay. Let’s — don’t worry about it. Let’s take in $100 billion a year. And we put the tariffs on. We made the statement, and then they upped the meeting. How about let’s go back to Thursday?
So, I have no idea what’s going to happen. I did get last night a very beautiful letter from President Xi, let’s work together. Let’s see if we can get something done. But they renegotiated the deal. I mean, they took — whether it’s intellectual property theft, they took many, many parts of that deal, and they renegotiated. You can’t do that.
And I'm different than a lot of people. I happen to think that tariffs, for our country, are very powerful. You know, we're the piggy bank that everybody steals from, including China. We've been paying China $500 billion a year for many, many years. China rebuilt their country because of us. They couldn't have done what they're doing. They're building a ship every three weeks. They're building aircraft like you've never seen, fighter jets.
I respect it. I don’t blame them. I blame our past leadership for allowing this to happen. What I’m doing now with China should have happened many years ago, not just Obama, long before Obama. I always say, you know, if you look, NAFTA is one of the worst deals ever made, trade deals.
But the worst trade deal ever made is the WTO, because China was flatlining for many, many decades, many, many. It was flat, right here. The WTO came along. We allowed China into the WTO ‚and they became a rocket ship. You got to take a look at a chart sometime. Do it. It’ll be very interesting, and economic chart. They’re here, and they went up like a rocket ship.
Well, they did it with our money, and others. And they did it because they’re very smart and they’re good people. And I like the president a lot. He’s a friend of mine. But I’m representing the USA, and he’s representing China. And we’re not going to be taken advantage of anymore. We’re not going to pay China $500 billion a year.
So, we put very heavy tariffs on China as of Friday, and we put them on also eight months ago. And when people looked at the economic numbers, they were shocked. When they look at the import/export numbers, they were shocked. They said, wow, how did they get to this point? This was very good. That was a very good report. They've never seen that for many years.
I said try looking at all of the tariffs that China has been paying us for the last eight months, billions and billions of dollars. And that's only because I gave them a break. Because we were negotiating — goodwill, we were negotiating, I gave them a break. And I said let's keep it at 10 percent instead of 25 percent.
So, now what we’re doing is we’re raising it to 25 percent on Friday. So, it’ll be $250 billion at 25 percent, and it’ll be $325 billion at 25 percent, and we’re starting that paperwork today. So, we’ll see. But you know what? As president of our country, I had to do something about it. And as president of our great country, we’re going to be taking in more money than we’ve ever taken in.
And all of these countries, many of them have taken advantage of us, including our allies. They’ve taken advantage of us on trade. They’ve taken advantage of us on military. We defend all these countries for nothing or for a tiny fraction of what it costs.
We take care of NATO. I’m all for NATO. I’m all for NATO. And I think it’s just wonderful, but it’s different than it was 25 years ago and 40 years ago. And I got NATO to put up an extra $100 billion. Ask Secretary General Stoltenberg. He’s, like, Donald Trump’s biggest fan, because spending was going down. The — the contributions that the 28 countries were making, it was heading like — like a slope down, like a very steep mountain. And then I came, and it went up like China. It went up like a rocket ship, okay?
But I don’t like seeing people take advantage. We pay for anywhere from 70 to 100 percent of NATO. So, we protect NATO. We protect European countries. And we protect them, and we protect them beautifully. We’re the power. We’re the most powerful nation, especially since we’ve redone our military, redoing and -done all of the nuclear. You never want to use it, but you have to have it.
But we've spent, and I thank Congress for this, $700 billion, and then $717 — 16 billion on our military. Our military, when I came to office, was totally depleted. We now have by far the strongest military in the world. But we defend countries. When you look at our budget — so, we're at $716 billion, and Russia's at $68 billion. How do you figure that? Because Russia doesn't go around defending every country in the world and not getting paid for it.
And you know what? I don’t mind not getting paid if there’s a country that’s been horribly treated and lots of bad things are happening and they’re not a rich country. But when we defend the richest countries in the world and they don’t pay us for or what we do. And, frankly, they go back into closed meetings, and they laugh at the stupidity of the United States for doing it. These are countries with nothing but cash. They could very easily — I told a story last night. I picked up $500 million with one phone call to a country, and that’s just the beginning. And I’ve done it with many other countries anyway. But just over the last very short period of time. One phone call that lasted for a period of, I would say, five minutes, I picked up $500 million because I said you’re not taking care of us. We’re taking care of you, but you’re not taking care — it’s not fair. So really the word is not fair. NATO doesn’t treat us fairly at all. But now they’re starting to pay. And if you look at Mr. Stoltenberg, he will tell you he has never seen anything like it. $100 billion. And that’s a low number. They’re paying $100 billion more.
But how do you feel about this? Germany, you’re supposed to be paying 2 percent. Germany is paying 1 percent. They say 1.3, but call it 1 percent because it really is closer to 1 percent. Germany pays to Russia billions of dollars a month for the pipeline, and yet we’re supposed to be defending Germany from Russia. So Germany is giving the so-called enemy — I don’t call it an enemy. I want to get along with Russia, and I want to get along with China, because I’m smart. Stupid people don’t want to get along. Because I’m smart. This witch hunt hurt us in our relationships with a lot of countries. It was a very expensive, horrible thing for our country. And by the way, should never, ever happen again to a president. Two years I’ve been going through this nonsense, and now we have a good report, and now guys like Jerry Nadler who I fought for many years, successfully I might add, back in New York in Manhattan. He was a Manhattan congressman. I beat him all the time, and I come to Washington, and now I have to beat him again over nothing, over nothing, over a hoax. And they know it’s a hoax. They’re smart. Nadler is a smart guy. Schiff is a smart guy. When Schiff goes to the microphone, he’s conning this whole country, and he knows that. And he goes back into a room and he talks to his friends, and he laughs, because that’s the way life is.
But our country is doing great. We’re going to find out about China tonight, and I think in the end you’re going to be very impressed with the kind of things we’re doing. And the reason they were so surprised with the numbers two, three weeks ago — not the 3.2 GDP, which everybody was surprised at, but maybe more importantly export numbers, import numbers, because we have billions of dollars coming to our country that our country never would have seen with a regular president. They should have been done many years ago. And I told President Xi of China, and I tell Abe, who is a good friend of mine, prime minister of Japan, doing a great job, I tell him — I tell everybody, I say I don’t blame you. I blame the people that ran the United States. And I blame their trade representatives, and frankly, I blame our presidents, because this should have never happened. We’ve been losing, for years, close to $800 billion — not million. $800 million is a lot — but we have been losing $800 billion on trade, $800 billion. We’re going to stop that, and we’ve already started. So we have a meeting tonight at 5:00 with the top people from China, and we’ll let you know what happens. Thank you all very much.
There was a moment in your rally last night when someone in the crowd seemed to say (INAUDIBLE).
The Red Sox are coming in a little while. I like the Red Sox.
What do you say to those who argue that you're too divisive, and do you worry it's going to hurt your reelection (INAUDIBLE)?
You know, it’s interesting; Puerto Rico — just so you understand, we gave Puerto Rico $91 billion for the hurricane. That’s the largest amount of money ever given to any state — talking about states and Puerto Rico, a little different — $91 billion. Texas got $30. Florida got $12. Puerto Rico got $91 billion. So I think the people of Puerto Rico should really like President Trump. Now that money was given by Congress, but they got $91 billion. Now you remember how big the hurricane was in Texas, the largest water dump in the history of our country, they say. Three times it went in, went out, went in. Texas got $30 billion. Florida got actually anywhere between $9 and $12. Puerto Rico got $91 billion, and now the Democrats are trying to hold up the money from Georgia, from South Carolina, from Alabama, to Florida. They’re trying to hold it up. They’re hurting Florida. They’re holding — I mean, what they’re doing to North Carolina, to Louisiana, they’re trying to hold relief aid because Puerto Rico, which got $91 billion, have to love their president, they want to get Puerto Rico more money. So they’re willing to sacrifice Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana and other states. The Democrats are doing that. They are very divisive people. Thank you very much.