President Trump has had a busy week of pretending he wasn’t golfing, but on Thursday he took a break to pontificate in the presence of a New York Times reporter. During lunch at his golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida, Trump agreed to an impromptu 30-minute interview with journalist Michael S. Schmidt. The Times report and accompanying interview excerpts sparked a debate over whether the paper should periodically allow Americans to experience Trump unfiltered, or force him to go to Fox News when he wants to spew dubious claims with no pushback.
Journalistic quandaries aside, Trump did make some news during the chat. Here are some of his most notable revelations.
Trump doesn’t sound like he’s on the verge of firing Mueller.
Many predicted that Trump was gearing up to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller over the holidays, but he didn’t play into the right-wing campaign to discredit the Russia probe (while insisting 16 times that there was “no collusion”).
SCHMIDT: What’s your expectation on Mueller? When do you —
TRUMP: I have no expectation. I can only tell you that there is absolutely no collusion. Everybody knows it. And you know who knows it better than anybody? The Democrats. They walk around blinking at each other.
SCHMIDT: But when do you think he’ll be done in regards to you —
TRUMP: I don’t know.
SCHMIDT: But does that bother you?
TRUMP: No, it doesn’t bother me because I hope that he’s going to be fair. I think that he’s going to be fair. And based on that [inaudible]. There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair. And if he’s fair — because everybody knows the answer already, Michael. I want you to treat me fairly. O.K.?
As Business Insider notes, Trump may feel comfortable taking a neutral stance on Mueller for now because he’s confident that his allies are working hard to discredit the investigation.
TRUMP: Yeah. Virtually every Democrat has said there is no collusion. There is no collusion. And even these committees that have been set up. If you look at what’s going on — and in fact, what it’s done is, it’s really angered the base and made the base stronger. My base is stronger than it’s ever been. Great congressmen, in particular, some of the congressmen have been unbelievable in pointing out what a witch hunt the whole thing is. So, I think it’s been proven that there is no collusion.
Either way, Trump doesn’t seem upset that his attorneys keep offering unrealistic end dates for Mueller’s probe.
SCHMIDT: That’s true. But in terms of, the lawyers said it would be done by, your guys said, it would be done by Thanksgiving, it would be done by Christmas. What are they telling you now? What are they telling you?
TRUMP: Timingwise, I can’t tell you. I just don’t know. But I think we’ll be treated fairly.
SCHMIDT: But you’re not worked up about the timing?
TRUMP: Well, I think it’s bad for the country. The only thing that bothers me about timing, I think it’s a very bad thing for the country. Because it makes the country look bad, it makes the country look very bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position. So the sooner it’s worked out, the better it is for the country.
However, Trump still thinks he has the right to fire Mueller.
He opted not to go after the special counsel today, but offered this bit of Nixonian foreshadowing.
SCHMIDT: You control the Justice Department. Should they reopen that email investigation?
TRUMP: What I’ve done is, 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.
Trump also maintains that Justice Department officials should be “loyal” to their president.
He’s a bit jealous of what (he thinks) Attorney General Eric Holder did for President Obama.
TRUMP: It’s too bad Jeff [Sessions] recused himself [from the Russia probe]. I like Jeff, but it’s too bad he recused himself. I thought. … Many people will tell you that something is [inaudible].
SCHMIDT: Do you think Holder was more loyal to. …
TRUMP: I don’t want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that, I will say this: Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him. When you look at the I.R.S. 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 claims it was his duty to endorse Roy Moore.
And not because the media wouldn’t stop talking about his alleged sexual misconduct either.
TRUMP: I always felt Roy was going to lose the election. But I endorsed him because I feel it’s my obligation as the head of the Republican Party to endorse him. And you see how tight it was even to get a popular. … In Republican circles, to get a very popular tax cut approved, actually reform. Two votes. Now we have one vote, all right?
Trump is a policy wonk beloved by nearly all Republicans in Congress.
And don’t forget, he’s also “much more humble than you would understand.”
TRUMP: Two things: No. 1, I have unbelievably great relationships with 97 percent of the Republican congressmen and senators. I love them and they love me. That’s No. 1. And No. 2, I know more about the big bills. … [Inaudible.] … Than any president that’s ever been in office. Whether it’s health care and taxes. Especially taxes. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have persuaded a hundred. … You ask Mark Meadows [inaudible]. … I couldn’t have persuaded a hundred congressmen to go along with the bill.
TRUMP: But Michael, I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. 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 ultimately only to be rejected.
Trump gets his intelligence briefings from Fox News.
You might think someone would alert the president when U.S. spy satellites catch China selling oil to North Korea, but Trump suggested he only learned about it from Fox News (and ignored Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy’s effort to help him backtrack).
SCHMIDT: Can you finish your thought on North Korea. What’s going on with China?
TRUMP: I’m disappointed. You know that they found oil going into. …
SCHMIDT: But how recently?
TRUMP: It was very recently. In fact, I hate to say, it was reported this morning, and it was reported on Fox. Oil is going into North Korea. That wasn’t my deal!
SCHMIDT: What was the deal?
TRUMP: My deal was that, we’ve got to treat them rough. They’re a nuclear menace so we have to be very tough.
RUDDY: Mr. President, was that a picture from recent or was that months ago? I don’t know. …
TRUMP: Oil is going into North Korea, I know. Oil is going into North Korea. So I’m not happy about it.
Trump is going to win in 2020 because the media is biased … in his favor.
TRUMP: We’re going to win another four years for a lot of reasons, most importantly because our country is starting to do well again and we’re being respected again. But 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.” O.K.