Trump's AP Interview: Unhinged, Bombastic, and "[Unintelligible]"
President sits down with Associated Press to rail against the media, dismiss his 100-day threshold, and discuss his broken pledges
President Donald Trump spoke with Associated Press journalist Julie Pace on Friday, and the transcript of the interview, released Sunday night, shows the president as bombastic and unstable, alternately dismissing his 100-day threshold and boasting about his accomplishments during that time.
The interview comes as public trust in the White House plummets, a grassroots resistance movement to the administration builds, and Trump reverses or pivots his stance on numerous campaign pledges, including the promise to call China a "currency manipulator."
During the interview with Pace, the president displayed many of his trademark sensitivities, particularly his anger at the media, which he described as "fake" multiple times. At one point he referred to CBS' "Face the Nation" as "Deface the Nation."
He also refuted the idea that he be held accountable for his 100-day plan released during the campaign:
TRUMP: [...] Because the hundred days is just an artificial barrier. The press keeps talking about the hundred days. But we've done a lot. You have a list of things. I don't have to read it.
AP: You did put out though, as a candidate, you put out a 100-day plan. Do you feel like you should be held accountable to that plan?
TRUMP: Somebody, yeah, somebody put out the concept of a hundred-day plan. But yeah. Well, I'm mostly there on most items. Go over the items, and I'll talk to you ...
TRUMP: But things change. There has to be flexibility. Let me give you an example. [Chinese President Xi Jinping], we have a, like, a really great relationship. For me to call him a currency manipulator and then say, "By the way, I'd like you to solve the North Korean problem," doesn't work. So you have to have a certain flexibility, Number One. Number Two, from the time I took office till now, you know, it's a very exact thing. It's not like generalities. Do you want a Coke or anything?
The interview was particularly notable for the number of instances in which Pace simply wrote "[unintelligible]" while quoting Trump.
In response to the question, "What's making that switch [from business to government] been like for you?" Trump responded:
You have to love people. And if you love people, such a big responsibility. [unintelligible] You can take any single thing, including even taxes. I mean we're going to be doing major tax reform. Here's part of your story, it's going to be a big [unintelligible]. Everybody's saying, 'Oh, he's delaying.' I'm not delaying anything. I'll tell you the other thing is [unintelligible]. I used to get great press. I get the worst press. I get such dishonest reporting with the media. That's another thing that really has—I've never had anything like it before. It happened during the primaries, and I said, you know, when I won, I said, "Well the one thing good is now I'll get good press." And it got worse. [unintelligible] So that was one thing that a little bit of a surprise to me. I thought the press would become better, and it actually, in my opinion, got more nasty.
At another point, Trump claimed that news shows get better ratings when he visits than they did on September 11, 2001:
TRUMP: No I have, it's interesting, I have, seem to get very high ratings. I definitely. You know Chris Wallace had 9.2 million people, it's the highest in the history of the show. I have all the ratings for all those morning shows. When I go, they go double, triple. Chris Wallace, look back during the Army-Navy football game, I did his show that morning.
AP: I remember, right.
TRUMP: It had 9.2 million people. It's the highest they've ever had. On any, on air, [CBS "Face the Nation" host John] Dickerson had 5.2 million people. It's the highest for "Face the Nation" or as I call it, "Deface the Nation." It's the highest for "Deface the Nation" since the World Trade Center. Since the World Trade Center came down. It's a tremendous advantage.
Later, Trump said that this week would see him roll out an economic plan that includes "maybe the biggest tax cut we've ever had," and that he doesn't know "yet" whether he would approve a budget bill that does not include funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
"I just don't know yet. I mean, I have to see what's going on. I really do. But the wall's a very important thing to—not only my base, but to the people. And even if it wasn't, I mean I'll do things that aren't necessarily popular. ... The wall is very important to stopping drugs," he said.
The president also claimed that Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) told him he would be the "greatest president in the history of this country," which Cummings has denied:
AP: He disputed that slightly.
TRUMP: That's what he said. I mean, what can I tell you?
TRUMP: There's six people sitting here. What did he, what, what do you mean by slightly?
AP: He said, he said that he felt like you could be a great president if and then—
TRUMP: Well he said, you'll be the greatest president in the history of, but you know what, I'll take that also, but that you could be. But he said, will be the greatest president but I would also accept the other. In other words, if you do your job, but I accept that. Then I watched him interviewed and it was like he never even was here. It's incredible. I watched him interviewed a week later and it's like he was never in my office. And you can even say that.
TRUMP: And the other thing that we should go after is the leakers. ...
AP: On Iran, you also talked about it quite a bit on the campaign trail. And you said in the press conference yesterday that you think that Iran is violating the spirit of the agreement. When you say that, do you mean in terms of the actual nuclear accord, or do you mean what they are doing in the region?
TRUMP: In terms of what they are doing all over the Middle East and beyond.
AP: So you believe that they are complying with the agreement?
TRUMP: No, I don't say that. I say that I believe they have broken the spirit of the agreement. There is a spirit to agreements, and they have broken it.
AP: In terms of what they are doing elsewhere in the Middle East?
TRUMP: In terms of what they are doing of all over.
AP: When you talk to European leaders, when you talk to [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, for example, or [British Prime Minster Theresa] May, what do they say about the nuclear deal? Do they want you to stay in that deal?
TRUMP: I don't talk to them about it.
AP: You don't talk to them about the Iran deal?
TRUMP: I mention it, but it's very personal when I talk to them, you know, it's confidential. No, they have their own opinions. I don't say that they are different than my opinions, but I'd rather have you ask them that question.
AP: At this point, do you believe that you will stay in the nuclear deal?
TRUMP: It's possible that we won't.
On the responsibility of factoring "human lives" into policy decisions:
AP: Can I ask you, over your first 100 days—you're not quite there yet—how do you feel like the office has changed you?
TRUMP: Well the one thing I would say—and I say this to people—I never realized how big it was. Everything's so [unintelligible] like, you know the orders are so massive. I was talking to—
AP: You mean the responsibility of it, or do you mean—
TRUMP: Number One, there's great responsibility. When it came time to, as an example, send out the 59 missiles, the Tomahawks in Syria. I'm saying to myself, "You know, this is more than just like, 79 [sic] missiles. This is death that's involved," because people could have been killed. This is risk that's involved, because if the missile goes off and goes in a city or goes in a civilian area — you know, the boats were hundreds of miles away—and if this missile goes off and lands in the middle of a town or a hamlet .... every decision is much harder than you'd normally make. [unintelligible] ... This is involving death and life and so many things. ... So it's far more responsibility. [unintelligible] ....The financial cost of everything is so massive, every agency. This is thousands of times bigger, the United States, than the biggest company in the world. The second-largest company in the world is the Defense Department. The third-largest company in the world is Social Security. The fourth-largest—you know, you go down the list.
TRUMP. It's massive. And every agency is, like, bigger than any company. So you know, I really just see the bigness of it all, but also the responsibility. And the human responsibility. You know, the human life that's involved in some of the decisions.
Trump also bashed his former rival Hillary Clinton, stating that she "spent massive amounts of money more and she lost. Solidly lost." But his strongest rebukes throughout the interview were consistently angled at the media:
TRUMP: No, they treat me so badly. No, I just said that. No, I, what'd I say, I stopped watching them. But I don't watch CNN anymore. I don't watch MSNBC. I don't watch it. Now I heard yesterday that MSNBC, you know, they tell me what's going on.
TRUMP: In fact, they also did. I never thought I had the ability to not watch. Like, people think I watch [MSNBC's] "Morning Joe." I don't watch "Morning Joe." I never thought I had the ability to, and who used to treat me great by the way, when I played the game. I never thought I had the ability to not watch what is unpleasant, if it's about me. Or pleasant. But when I see it's such false reporting and such bad reporting and false reporting that I've developed an ability that I never thought I had. I don't watch things that are unpleasant. I just don't watch them.
TRUMP: And I don't watch things that I know are going to be unpleasant. CNN has covered me unfairly and incorrectly and I don't watch them anymore. A lot of people don't watch them anymore, they're now in third place. But I've created something where people are watching ... but I don't watch CNN anymore. I don't watch MSNBC anymore. I don't watch things, and I never thought I had that ability. I always thought I'd watch.
TRUMP: I just don't. And that's taken place over the last year. And you know what that is, that's a great, it's a great thing because you leave, you leave for work in the morning you know, you're, you don't watch this total negativity. I never thought I'd be able to do that and for me, it's so easy to do now. Just don't watch.
AP: That's interesting.
TRUMP: Maybe it's because I'm here. I don't know.