As part of a media blitz leading up to the 2018 midterm election, President Donald Trump sat down with the Associated Press for a wide-ranging interview. (Sidebar: Are there any other kinds of interviews? Like a narrow-ranging interview?) It was Trump at his most Trump-y, as the President bragged and belittled in equal measure all while demonstrating his now well-known disregard for facts.
I went through the transcript and pulled out the most memorable lines. As always, these are actual quotes from the actual President of the United States.
1. “How is the business of the news? We’re keeping you busy?”
And away we go!
2. “What are you going to do in 6½ years with a normal boring person here?”
One thing Trump is absolutely right about is that the political world – elected officials, media etc. – will have a major adjustment to make once he is no longer president, whether that’s after 2020 or 2024. There’s never been a president anything like him and it’s hard to see there being another one that even approximates Trump in the future.
3. “I spoke to the king yesterday, the crown prince, today wanting to know what was going on, what was happening, and he said very strongly that he and his father knew nothing about it but they are starting a major, they’ve already started a major investigation to find out.”
Trump, again, repeats the denials of King Salman and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that they had anything to do with the disappearance and suspected murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Turkey. Trump’s willingness to accept their denials comes amid reporting that the Saudi government had conversations about how to lure Khashoggi back to their country. Trump, as I wrote recently, has a huge double standard when it comes to denials and the people who make them.
4. “When I spoke to the father, it just sounded to me like he felt like he did not do it.”
OK, so Trump is resting his entire conclusion that the Saudis didn’t murder Khashoggi on his talk with King Salman in which “it just sounded to me like he felt he did not do it.” Sure. OK. This all makes perfect sense.
5. “He did not know about it and it sounded like, you know, the concept of rogue killers.”
Ah yes, the old “concept of rogue killers” argument! Of course! (Sidebar: How did these rogue killers get access into the Saudi Consulate?)
6. “You know, here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that.”
The context here is whether or nor the Saudis are involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance. But let’s remember, too, that Trump has zero problem with “guilty until proven innocent” when it comes to his political opponents. (He said Hillary Clinton should be in jail during the 2016 campaign!) He just doesn’t like the idea of guilty until proven innocent when it deals with people he likes and who like him. Also, not for nothing: The evidence that has seeped out regarding Khashoggi’s disappearance strongly suggests that the Saudi government was, at a minimum, aware of what happened.
7. “We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh. And he was innocent all the way.”
Not true. The Senate confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was a job interview, not a trial. The only thing decided by Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote was that 50 senators believed the allegations of sexual assault leveled by Christine Blasey Ford against Kavanaugh were not disqualifying for him to be on the nation’s highest court. Guilt or innocence was not part of the equation.
8. “But I will say they were very strong in their denial about themselves knowing.”
Again, the fact the Saudis were “very strong” in their denial that they had anything to do with Khashoggi’s disappearance means a lot less than Trump seems to think. Did he expect that, after weeks of the Saudi government denying involvement, that King Salman was going to say “OK, now that were on the phone, I want to tell you we did this?” Come on, man.
9. “Look, I’m 48 and 1 in the primaries, and actually it’s much higher than that because I endorsed a lot of people that were successful that people don’t even talk about.”
It’s not immediately clear how Trump arrived at this number of 48 wins and 1 loss for candidates he has backed in primaries. We do know that his preferred candidate in Wyoming’s Senate primary – Foster Friess – lost in August. As for the 4+ dozen wins for Trump, according to Trump, it’s harder to calculate what he is counting as an endorsement. One note: Trump has often tweeted out his support for a candidate in a Republican primary who was going to win anyway. I am sure he is counting that in his win total, but not so sure his endorsement changed all that much. That said, there’s NO question he is very popular among Republican base voters.
10. “No, I think I’m helping people.”
In which Trump rejects that if Republicans lose control of the House or Senate, he will have any blame to bear for it. Despite job approval ratings in the low 40s and disastrously bad numbers among women.
11. “I will say that we have a very big impact. I don’t believe anybody’s ever had this kind of an impact.”
Just Trump saying he has had the biggest political impact of any president ever on a midterm election. (He might be right, but the impact may not be the positive kind.)
12. “And I was getting literally tens of thousands of people, also, more than Hillary in the same location.”
For starters, he’s talking about an election that is almost two years in the rearview mirror now. Second, he is obsessed with crowd size as not just an indicator of popularity but also of him being right (about everything).
13. “We have a witch hunt now going on, and I handle it very well, and there was no collusion. Everyone knows it. It’s … people laugh.”
[Narrator voice] Everyone doesn’t know it.
14. “They have to do whatever they do, and I’ll do whatever I do.”
This is Trump’s take on how he will handle it if Democrats, if they win the majority in November, go after his tax returns. So now we know that he’ll “do whatever I do.”
15. “I would say, without question, first two years of office, I’ve had the most successful two years in the history of this country as a president.”
This is, of course, totally unverifiable given that it’s difficult to know what Trump means by “most successful.” He’s been making this claim about being the most successful ever since he got into office. Most successful first 100 days. Most successful first year. Most successful 18 months. And on and on and on. Most fact-checks of these sorts of claims suggest Trump is exaggerating – to put it mildly.
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16. “And, would get me the list? Would you get me the list, please?”
Trump’s talking to a staffer here – asking him/her to fetch the paper copy of the list he has of his accomplishments. How do I know Trump has a paper copy of his accomplishments? Because he read from it at a campaign rally in Las Vegas last month!
17. “I have the most successful. Nobody has done what I’ve done, and nobody has come close in the first two years of office.”
What question was Trump responding to here, you ask? “Do you think you have the legal team necessary?” That was the question to which Trump responded “I have the most successful.” I mean, what the actual hell.
18. “Here, these are just some. I just put them down rough. But take a look at that. You all set.”
The List of Accomplishments has been found! I repeat: The List of Accomplishments has been found!
19. “Who is the one, who’s the one president that percentage-wise has done better than me? There’s only one. George Washington — 100%. Nobody has gotten that yet.”
I think – emphasis on think – that Trump is talking about how many judges he’s nominated who have been confirmed? Also, 100% is the best you can do. Unless you do 110%.
20. “Oh, absolutely he’s lying. And Michael Cohen was a PR person who did small legal work, very small legal work.”
Michael Cohen was Trump’s personal lawyer and the guy who fixed the problems no one else wanted to or could for more than a decade in Trump world. If Cohen was jut a “PR person who did small legal work” then why do we have an audio recording of he and Trump discussing how to execute a hush payment to Karen McDougal, a woman who has alleged she had an extramarital affair with Trump about a decade ago? Is that the sort of thing that you would entrust to “a PR person who did small legal work?”
21. “He wasn’t in trouble for what he did for me; he was in trouble for what he did for other people.”
Of the counts that Cohn pleaded guilty to earlier this year, two are campaign finance violations tied directly to payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and McDougal, a former Playboy model, that Cohen testified under oath that he coordinated at the behest of and in coordination with Donald Trump. So…
22. “He represented me very little. It’s a very low-level. And what he was is also a public relations person.”
“The New York Times and a third rate reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as a Crooked H flunkie who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with, are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip.’ They use non-existent ‘sources’ and a drunk/drugged up loser who hates Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family. Michael is a businessman for his own account/lawyer who I have always liked & respected. Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media!” – Donald Trump, April 21, 2018. Ahem.
23. “You know what? You can take it any way you want.”
This is Trump’s response to an AP reporter asking whether it is appropriate for the President of the United States to call a woman “horseface” – as Trump did to Daniels on Twitter earlier that day. Let me translate Trump’s response: “Yes, it’s totally and perfectly fine for me to do whatever I want to do at all times.”
24. “I’m just saying, I just speak for myself. You take a look, and you make your own determination.”
This is an important window into how deeply Trump breaks with past presidents. He views the presidency as his personal pulpit. He doesn’t view himself as speaking for the nation – whether to the rest of the country or to the world. Also, his response here on the Daniels’ name-calling is, essentially, “it is is what it is.”
25. “And you have scientists on both sides of the issue. And I agree the climate changes, but it goes back and forth, back and forth.”
Trump should watch this John Oliver clip about the notion that there are “scientists on both sides” of the climate change issue.
26. “Everything I want and everything I have is clean. Clean is very important — water, air.”
[nods head slowly]
27. “My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump. And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.”
OH. MY. GOD.
On a related note: “Sting. Sting would be another person who’s a hero. The music that he’s created over the years. I don’t really listen to it, but the fact that he’s making it, I respect that.” – Hansel
28. “And even people that are not my friends say that was a horrible thing that he did to the president, a horrible thing.”
This is such a revealing answer from Trump about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself in the Russia probe. Sessions did so, he said, because he wanted to avoid even the appearance of any bias or favoritism due to his prominent role as a surrogate for Trump in 2016. Trump doesn’t go for the whole justice-is-blind thing. He’s totally focused on why what Sessions did was unfair to HIM.
29. “He should be ashamed of himself for doing it.”
REMINDER: Jeff Sessions – aka the person who should be ashamed of himself – is the current attorney general!
30. “I could fire him whenever I want to fire him, but I haven’t said that I was going to.”
Have a good day at work today, Jeff!
31. “I just haven’t said I was going to fire him. We’ll see what happens. But if you ask me: Am I thrilled? No, I am not thrilled.”
It’s not that Trump isn’t going to fire Sessions. It’s just that he hasn’t said he is going to fire him. Yet!
32. “My son’s a good young guy.”
Well, I’m convinced! [re-hangs portrait of Donald Trump Jr. over mantel]
33. “There was nothing wrong with having an opposition research meeting and nothing happened from the meeting.”
True-ish. But remember that this June 2016 Trump Tower meeting was with Russians that was set up with the understanding that the dirt they had on Hillary Clinton was coming from the high levels of the Russian government. Which makes the decision to take the meeting a lot more dicey than Trump is suggesting here.
34. “To think that I would be even thinking about using Russia to help me win Idaho. We’re using Russia to help me win the great state of Iowa or anywhere else is the most preposterous, embarrassing thing.”
No one is saying that. Not Robert Mueller. Not anyone. The special counsel probe is looking into Russia’s attempted interference in the election to help Trump and hurt Clinton. And the possibility that members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russians to further that goal. This is a total straw-man argument by Trump.
35. “The word is ‘sow,’ an old English term.”
CORRECT. Sow: “to scatter seed upon the ground or plant it in the earth, disseminate.”
36. “This was an excuse made by the Democrats for the reason they lost the Electoral College, which gives them a big advantage — a big advantage. Very different than the popular vote. The popular vote would be much easier to win if you were campaigning on it.”
The question asked of Trump that elicited this answer – and, no, I am not kidding, was: “Would you prefer to have an in-person interview [with Mueller] or do it this way?”
37. “I covered it so nicely on ’60 Minutes,′ but they only put on pieces of it, and they were fine but you know they cut, cut, cut because I guess they have so much time.”
“60 Minutes” has said they cut any Trump answer or comment that they couldn’t independently verify. So, yes, “cut cut cut” is an accurate description.
38. “I think we’ve done an incredible job with children.”
Trump’s answer on whether he had any regrets on his border separation policy. He, uh, doesn’t.
39. “Nobody has been better at the military.”
“These are my awards, Mother. From Army. The seal is for marksmanship, and the gorilla is for sand racing. Now if you’ll excuse me, they’re putting me in something called Hero Squad.” – Buster Bluth
40. “I see no talent.”
Donald Trump assesses the 2020 Democratic field. This feels like the right place to end.