Photo of Donald Trump

Interview with Jonathan Swan of Axios

August 03, 2020

SWAN: Thank you so much for having us. We're over here, Mr. President. Thank you. Kelly.


SWAN: Mr. President, thank you for joining us.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.

SWAN: We appreciate you taking the time, and we appreciate your commitment to answer our questions.


SWAN: We really appreciate that. Over the years, I've heard you talk about your adherence to a philosophy called positive thinking. Is this the mantra that if you believe something, if you visualize it, then it will happen?

THE PRESIDENT: To an extent. I also think in terms of the downside. I do. I've been given a lot of credit for positive thinking, but I also think about downside because only a fool doesn't.

SWAN: To what extent do you think that that positive thinking mindset is suitable to handling the worst pandemic that we've seen in a century?

THE PRESIDENT: I think you have to have a positive outlook. Otherwise, you would have nothing without a positive outlook. I think we've done an incredible job, between the ventilators and stopping very infected people from China coming in, meaning putting the ban on China, which frankly nobody wanted me to do, practically nobody because it was very early in January. Then putting the ban on Europe, not an easy thing to do. When you put a ban on Europe, that's a big thing. We would have probably lost hundreds of thousands of lives more had I not done that.

And all of the experts, every one of them, not one of them wanted to do it. They thought it was too severe. Three months later, they're all saying, I'm glad you did it.

SWAN: The criticism of you that is most prominent, is about the communication. It's the public health experts saying that it needs to be based in reality. And they're saying that the wishful thinking and the salesmanship is just not suitable in a time when the pandemic has killed 145,000 Americans. And I understand what you're saying, that people need to hear positive thinking, but for the past five months it's been, the virus is totally under control, and the cases have been going up and the deaths have been going up.

THE PRESIDENT: Look, look.

SWAN: But you've been saying it's under control.

THE PRESIDENT: Nobody knew what this thing was all about. This has never happened before. 1917, but it was a totally different, it was a flu in that case. Okay? But other than 1917, there's never been anything like this. And by the way, if you watch the fake news on television, they don't even talk about it. But you know, there are 188 of the countries right now that are suffering, some proportionately far greater than we are. Okay? As bad as we are.

SWAN: Very few. [crosstalk]

THE PRESIDENT: Some proportionately greater than we are. Right now, right now, Spain is having a big spike. There are tremendous problems in the world. You look at Moscow, look at what's going on with Moscow. Look at Brazil, look at these countries what's going on. This was sent to us by China, one way or the other, and we're never going to forget it. Believe me, we're never going to forget it.

And we were beating China at every single point. We were beating them on trade, we were making progress like nobody's ever made progress. Before the pandemic, they had the worst year, Jonathan, that they've had in 67 years. You know that. With the tariffs and everything else I did. We were taking in billions of dollars. I was giving some of it to the farmers. The farmers were doing well because they were targeting the farmers, I was targeting China. We were doing good.

Then all of a sudden, the game changed, and I had to close it down. I closed down the greatest economy ever in history.


THE PRESIDENT: Well, wait. And then, I closed it down. And now we're opening it. And we saved, by the way, by closing it down, we saved millions of lives. If we would have gone to herd and we knew very little about the disease, if we would've gone herd, we would have lost millions of people, millions of people. One person's too much. We're at 140,000 people. One person is too much. We're at 140. We would have lost millions of people. And those people that really understand it, they really understand it. They said, it's incredible the job that we've done. And again, I bring it up, the ban-

SWAN: Who says that?

THE PRESIDENT: Banning China from coming in far earlier-

SWAN: But it was already in here.

THE PRESIDENT: What's that?

SWAN: It was already here. By the time you banned China, it came in through Europe.

THE PRESIDENT: Nobody knew the extent. Nobody knew how contagious it was. You know What? Maybe China knew.

SWAN: But the question is, Mr. President, by June we knew things were bad. And the last time I was with you was the day before your Tulsa rally in the Oval, and you were saying big, huge crowd, it was endorsed. These people, they listen to you.

THE PRESIDENT: By the way, [crosstalk] Excuse me, Jonathan, we had a 19,000 seat stadium and first of all, we had 12,000 people, not 6,000, which you reported and other people reported. But you couldn't even get in. It was like an armed camp.

SWAN: Why would you want it that?

THE PRESIDENT: Because they had 120 Black Lives Matter people there and Tulsa-

SWAN: I understand but why would you have wanted a huge crowd?

THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, wait. And Tulsa, well, because that area was a very good area at the time. It was an area that was pretty much over. [crosstalk] After, after, a month later, it started going up. That's a month later, but Tulsa was a very good, Oklahoma was doing very well as a state. It was almost free. It spiked a month later, a month and a half, two months later. But it was a good area.

We had a tremendous crowd, we had tremendous response. It was like an armed camp. You couldn't even get through. You couldn't get anybody in. But we had 12,000 people. It was incorrectly reported. The other thing we had that nobody wants to talk about, so Fox broadcast it. It was the highest rating in the history of Fox television Saturday night. It was the highest rating.

SWAN: Mr. President-

THE PRESIDENT: Well, wait a minute. You're saying something. That speech was the highest rated speech in the history of Fox television on Saturday night. And nobody says that.

SWAN: I think you misunderstand me. I'm not criticizing your ability to draw a crowd. Are you kidding me? I've covered you for five years. You draw massive crowds. You get huge ratings. I'm asking about the public health

THE PRESIDENT: I'm just saying this. I'm just saying this. At the time… And I canceled another one. I had to cancel it and we were going to have a great crowd in New Hampshire, and I canceled it for the same reason.

SWAN: But here's the question. I've covered you for a long time. I've gone to your rallies. I've talked to your people. They love you. They listen to you. They listen to every word you say, they hang on your every word. They don't listen to me or the media or Fauci. They think we're fake news. They want to get their advice from you. And so, when they hear you say, everything's under control, don't worry about wearing masks. I mean, these are people, many of them are older people, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, what's your definition of control?

SWAN: It's giving them a false sense of security.

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Under the circumstances right now, I think it's under control. I'll tell you what-

SWAN: How? 1,000 Americans are dying a day.

THE PRESIDENT: They are dying. That's true. And it is what it is. But that doesn't mean we aren't doing everything we can. It's under control as much as you can control it. This is a horrible plague that beset us.

SWAN: You really think this is as much as we can control it? 1,000 deaths a day?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'll tell you, I'd like to know if somebody… First of all, we have done a great job. We've gotten the governors everything they needed, they didn't do their job. Many of them didn't and some of them did. Someday we'll sit down. We'll talk about the successful ones, the good ones. Look at that smile. The good ones and the bad. We had good and bad. And we had a lot in the middle, but we had some incredible governors. I could tell you right now who the great ones are and who the not so great ones are, but the governors do it. We gave them massive amounts of material.

SWAN: Mr. President, you changed your message this week, in terms of you canceled the Jacksonville convention, you said, "Wear a mask." You're saying that, "It's going to get worse before it gets better." It's not something you'd like to say, I know. And you said that. The big question-

THE PRESIDENT: By the way, not get worse like the original flow. You understand that.

SWAN: Well, I hope not. It's a 1,000-

THE PRESIDENT: But If you look, Arizona's going down. Texas is going down, and Florida is going down.

SWAN: If I could just finish my question. The question is, even some of your own aides wonder whether you would stick to that message until Election Day, whether in a week or two, you won't say, "Right, we've got to reopen again. We can't do this stuff anymore." That you'll get bored of talking about the virus and go back to that sort of cheerleading.

THE PRESIDENT: No, I'm not going to get bored. I never get bored of talking about this, it's too big a thing.

SWAN: So will you stick to that message?

THE PRESIDENT: And again, it should have been stopped by China, and it wasn't.

SWAN: But now it's here and you're the President.

THE PRESIDENT: We have it here.

SWAN: Because these terrorists, these Antifa people, these people that are at anarchists and agitators, when they see the name on a uniform of a person.

THE PRESIDENT: No, I think I'm very consistent. No, this is a very serious thing. We have 140,000 people at this moment.

SWAN: More than that.

THE PRESIDENT: This is a very, very serious situation. And what you have to do, is handle it the best it can be handled. And again, I'm working with the governors. I got them tremendous amounts of equipment that they would have never gotten. Jonathan, they wouldn't have equipment now, if I didn't get.

SWAN: When can you commit, by what date, that every American will have access to the same day testing that you get here in the White House?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we have great testing. We're doing and many other people do-

SWAN: By what date?

THE PRESIDENT: Let me explain the testing. We have tested more people than any other country, than all of Europe put together times two. We have tested more people than anybody ever thought of. India has 1.4 billion people. They've done 11 million tests. We've done 55, it'll be close to 60 million tests. And there are those that say, you can test too much. You do-

And there are those that say you can test too much. You do know that.

SWAN: Who says that?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, just read the manuals, read the books.

SWAN: Manuals?

THE PRESIDENT: Read the books. Read the books.

SWAN: What books?

THE PRESIDENT: What testing does-

SWAN: Wait a minute. I'm sorry.

THE PRESIDENT: Let me explain. What testing does, it shows cases. It shows where there may be cases. Other countries test… you know when they test? They test when somebody is sick. That's when they test. And I'm not saying they're right or wrong. Nobody has done it like we've done it. We've gotten absolutely no credit for it. But we've come up with so many different tests. The only thing that we have now is some people have to wait longer than we'd like them to. We want it-

SWAN: That's a big problem.

THE PRESIDENT: We want point to point. We want to have a five minute to a 15 minute test.

SWAN: Right. When do you think-

THE PRESIDENT: And we have… and like many others-

SWAN: Every American-

THE PRESIDENT: And, from what I understand, we're close to 50% where it's point to point tests. We are making thousands of instruments, thousands of tests right now, tens of thousands that can be distributed to various parts of the country. But you have to understand. And we've even sent some of them to other countries where they had a big problem. Jonathan, almost 50%, in fact, I think the number might be over, is immediate testing. The other is tough. You take a test. You have to send it to a laboratory. Let's say that takes a day. Let's say it's a day.

SWAN: Right. It's difficult.

THE PRESIDENT: So, it's three, or four, or five days.

SWAN: I understand.

THE PRESIDENT: There is nothing you can do about that.

SWAN: But when do you think you will have it for everyone? What day?

THE PRESIDENT: I think that you will have that relatively soon. I mean-

SWAN: What does that mean?

THE PRESIDENT: You already have half.

SWAN: Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT: I would much rather get back to you.

SWAN: Okay. That's fine.

THE PRESIDENT: Because I don't want to have you write in one month, I didn't make it.

SWAN: That's fine.

THE PRESIDENT: I missed it by a day.

SWAN: Yeah. I get it.

THE PRESIDENT: And it's a headline.

SWAN: Mr. President, I want to talk about the federal intervention.

THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me. One thing I would say about testing.

SWAN: Yeah. Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT: Because we test so much, we show cases. So, we show many, many cases. We show tremendous number of cases. I know you're smiling when I say that, but I'm telling you.

SWAN: Well, I mean, I've heard you say this.

THE PRESIDENT: I know. Other countries don't test like we do. So, they don't show case.

SWAN: Just a couple points on that. I wasn't going to continue on the testing, but you said it. So, we're testing so much because it's spread so far in America. And, when you-

THE PRESIDENT: We're testing so much because we had the ability to test.

SWAN: Okay.

THE PRESIDENT: Because we came up with test-

SWAN: But South Korea-

THE PRESIDENT: Jonathan, we didn't even have a test. When I took over, we didn't even have a test. Now, in all fairness-

SWAN: Why would you have a test?

THE PRESIDENT: There was no test for this-

SWAN: The virus didn't exist.

THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me. I was going to say-

SWAN: Okay.

THE PRESIDENT: There was no test for this. We didn't have a test because there was no test.

SWAN: Of course.

THE PRESIDENT: And, in a very short order, we got one test. We got another test.

SWAN: It was broken, the first one.

THE PRESIDENT: We got another. Many of those tests are now obsolete because it's called science.

SWAN: Right.

THE PRESIDENT: And, all of a sudden, something is better. But, because we tested so many people, 55, 60 million people, very soon, we get cases. You test. Some kid has even just a little runny nose. It's a case. And then, you report many cases. So, we look like we have more cases than massive countries like China, which by the way, doesn't report, as you know.

SWAN: Well, I don't put any stock in China's figures.

THE PRESIDENT: No. No. The point is-

SWAN: Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT: The point is, because we are so much better at testing than any other country in the world, we show more cases.

SWAN: The figure I look at is death. And death is going up now.

THE PRESIDENT: Okay. No, no.

SWAN: It's a thousand a day.

THE PRESIDENT: If you look at death-

SWAN: Yeah. It's going up again.

THE PRESIDENT: Let's look. Let's look.

SWAN: Daily death.

THE PRESIDENT: Take a look at some of these charts.

SWAN: I'd love to.

THE PRESIDENT: We're going to look.

SWAN: Let's look.

THE PRESIDENT: And, if you look at death per-

SWAN: Jonathan Swan: Yeah. It's started to go up again.

THE PRESIDENT: Here is one. Well, right here, United States is lowest in numerous categories. We're lower than the world.

SWAN: Lower than the world?

THE PRESIDENT: We're lower than Europe.

SWAN: What does that mean? In what? In what?

THE PRESIDENT: Look. Take a look. Right there. Here is case death.

SWAN: Oh, you're doing death as a proportion of cases. I'm talking about death as a proportion of population. That's where the U.S. is really bad, much worse than South Korea, Germany, et cetera.

THE PRESIDENT: You can't do that.

SWAN: Why can't I do that?

THE PRESIDENT: You have to go by where… look. Here is the United States. You have to go by the cases. The cases are there.

SWAN: Why not as a proportion of population?

THE PRESIDENT: What it says is, when you have somebody where there's a case-

SWAN: Oh, okay.

THE PRESIDENT: The people that live from those cases.

SWAN: Oh. It's surely a relevant statistic to say, if the U.S. has X population and X percentage of death of that population versus South Korea-

THE PRESIDENT: No. Because you have to go by the cases.

SWAN: Well, look at South Korea, for example. 51 million population, 300 deaths. It's like, it's crazy compared to-

THE PRESIDENT: You don't know that.

SWAN: I do.

THE PRESIDENT: You don't know that.

SWAN: You think they're faking their statistics, South Korea? An advanced country?

THE PRESIDENT: I won't get into that because I have a very good relationship with the country.

SWAN: Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT: But you don't know that. And they have spikes. Look, here's one of-

SWAN: Germany, low 9,000.

THE PRESIDENT: Here's one. Here's one right here, United States.

SWAN: Let me look.

THE PRESIDENT: You take the number of cases.

SWAN: Okay.

THE PRESIDENT: Now look, we're last meaning we're first.

SWAN: Last? I don't know what we're first in.

THE PRESIDENT: We have the best.

SWAN: As a what?

THE PRESIDENT: Take a look again. It's cases.

SWAN: Okay. I'll just… okay.

THE PRESIDENT: And we have cases because of the testing.

SWAN: I mean, a thousand Americans die a day. But I understand. I understand on the cases, it's different.

THE PRESIDENT: No, but you're not reporting it correctly, Jonathan.

SWAN: I think I am, but-

THE PRESIDENT: If you take a look at this other chart… look, this is our testing. I believe this is the testing. Yeah.

SWAN: Yeah. We do more tests.

THE PRESIDENT: No, wait a minute. Well, don't we get credit for that? And, because we do more tests, we have more cases. In other words, we test more. We have… now, take a look. The top one, that's a good thing not a bad thing. But the top… Jonathan-

SWAN: If hospitals rates were going down and deaths were going down, I'd say, terrific. You deserve to be praised for testing.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, they don't even-

SWAN: But they are all going up.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, they very rarely talk-

SWAN: Plus, 60,000 Americans are in hospital, 1,000 dying a day.

THE PRESIDENT: If you watch the news or read the papers, they usually talk about new cases, new cases, new cases.

SWAN: I'm talking about death.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you look at death.

SWAN: It's going up.

THE PRESIDENT: Death is way down from where it was.

SWAN: It's 1,000 a day.


SWAN: It was two and a half thousand. It went down to 500. Now, it's going up again.

THE PRESIDENT: Death… excuse me. Where it was is much higher than where it is right now.

SWAN: It went down and then it went up again.

THE PRESIDENT: It spiked, but now it's going down again.

SWAN: It's going up.

THE PRESIDENT: It's gone down in Arizona. It's going down in Florida.

SWAN: nationally it's going up.

THE PRESIDENT: It's going down in Texas. Take a look at this. These are the tests.

SWAN: It's going down in Florida?

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. It leveled out and it's going down. That's my report, as of yesterday.

SWAN: Anyway, Mr. President, if I could change subjects.

THE PRESIDENT: It is going down in Arizona. It is gong down in Texas.

SWAN: Arizona it is. Arizona it is. Texas has big problems.

THE PRESIDENT: And it is spiked. It spiked and is now going down in Florida. It's evened out and going down in Florida.

SWAN: I'll have to see those figures.

THE PRESIDENT: But you have to look at this. This is the number of tests compared to the rest of the world.

SWAN: I don't deny your figures. You've done more tests by far than the rest of the world. I don't deny that.

THE PRESIDENT: Right. And, because we've done more tests, we have more cases.

SWAN: You have more infections.

THE PRESIDENT: Now, you can take them back. Check it out in your office.

SWAN: Mr. President, different subject, it's been widely reported that the U.S. has intelligence indicating that Russia paid bounties or offered to pay bounties to Taliban fighters to kill American soldiers.

THE PRESIDENT: Right. Right.

SWAN: You had a phone call with Vladimir Putin on July 23rd. Did you bring up this issue?

THE PRESIDENT: No. That was a phone call to discuss other things. And frankly, that's an issue that many people said was fake news.

SWAN: Who said it was fake news?

THE PRESIDENT: I think a lot of people. If you look at some of the wonderful folks from the Bush Administration, some of them, not any friends of mine, were saying that it's a fake issue. But a lot of people said, it's a fake issue.

SWAN: There was dispute within intelligence.

THE PRESIDENT: But we had a call. We had a call talking about nuclear proliferation.

SWAN: Right.

THE PRESIDENT: Which is a very big subject where they would like to do something. And so would I. We discussed numbers things. We did not discuss that. No.

SWAN: And you've never discussed it with him.

THE PRESIDENT: I have never discussed it with him. No. I would. I'd have no problem with it.

SWAN: But you don't believe the intelligence.

THE PRESIDENT: But you know it never got to-

SWAN: It's because you don't believe the intelligence. That's why.

THE PRESIDENT: It's interesting. Nobody ever brings up China. They always bring Russia, Russia, Russia. If we can do something with Russia in terms of nuclear proliferation, which is a very big problem.

SWAN: Right.

THE PRESIDENT: Bigger problem than global warming.

SWAN: Right.

THE PRESIDENT: A much bigger problem than global warming in terms of the real world, that would be a great thing. No. It never reached my desk.

SWAN: Okay.

THE PRESIDENT: You know why? Because intelligence, they didn't think it was real.

SWAN: It was in your written brief though about it.

THE PRESIDENT: They didn't think it was worthy. I wouldn't mind. If it reached my desk, I would have done something about it. It never reached my desk because-

SWAN: Do you read your written brief?


SWAN: Do you?

THE PRESIDENT: I read it a lot.

SWAN: Really?

THE PRESIDENT: I read a lot. They like to say I don't read. I read a lot.

SWAN: You read your daily intelligence brief?

THE PRESIDENT: I comprehend extraordinarily well, probably better than anybody that you've interviewed in a long time. I read a lot. I spend a lot of time at meetings. Usually it's once a day or at least two or three times a week, intelligence meetings.

SWAN: Because this was apparently in your-

THE PRESIDENT: Talking about India, talking about the problems with China.

SWAN: Right.

THE PRESIDENT: Talking about so many different elements of the world.

SWAN: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

THE PRESIDENT: The world is a very angry place, if you look all over the world. We call up. I see a 22 soldiers were killed in India with China fighting over the border. It's been raging for many, many decades. And they've been fighting and back and forth. I have so many briefings on so many different countries, but this one didn't reach my desk.

SWAN: The reason I say this is, even if you don't believe this particular piece of intelligence, and there is dispute, no doubt, there is dispute in the intelligence committee about it, John Nicholson, former head of forces in Afghanistan said, and this is when he was working for you, that Russia is supplying weapons to the Taliban. Isn't that enough to challenge Putin over the killings of U.S. soldiers?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we sold them weapons when they were fighting Russia too. When they were fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan-

SWAN: Yeah. But that's a different era.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's a different… I'm just saying. Yes.

SWAN: But how does that affect-

THE PRESIDENT: I'm just saying we did that too.

SWAN: But how does that-

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. I didn't ask Nicholson about that. He was there for a long time. Didn't have great success because he was there before me. And then, ultimately, I made a change.

SWAN: But you surely heard that. Right? I mean, it's well known in the intelligence community, that they're arming the Taliban, Russia.

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. When you say arming is-

SWAN: Supplying weapons.

THE PRESIDENT: Paying or they-

SWAN: Russia is supplying weapons and money to the Taliban.

THE PRESIDENT: I have heard that but, again, it's never reached my desk.

SWAN: I mean, he said it on the record when he was in-

THE PRESIDENT: Hey, Russia doesn't want anything to do with Afghanistan. Let me just say about Russia. Russia used to be a thing called the Soviet Union. Because of Afghanistan, they went bankrupt. They became Russia, just so you do understand. Okay? The last-

Went bankrupt, they became Russia, just so you do understand, okay? The last thing that Russia wants to do is get too much involved with Afghanistan. They tried that once. It didn't work out too well.

SWAN: Last question on this subject.

THE PRESIDENT: And by the way, we're largely out of Afghanistan, as you probably know.

SWAN: Well, I wanted to ask you about that. The US troop level in Afghanistan right now is roughly the same as it was when you-

THE PRESIDENT: No, you're wrong. No.

SWAN: Mr. President. I'm sorry. We have to do-

THE PRESIDENT: Okay. Are you ready?

SWAN: No, no. I need-

THE PRESIDENT: We'll be down in a very short… It's already planned.

SWAN: Well, that's a different question.

THE PRESIDENT: Let me explain. We'll be down in a very short period of time to 8,000, then we're going to be down to 4,000. We're negotiating right now. We've been there for 19 years.

SWAN: I know. I know.

THE PRESIDENT: 19 years.

SWAN: But if you just let me finish my question.

THE PRESIDENT: We'll be getting out.

SWAN: I understand. Look, when you came in, it was 8,800. You boosted to 14,000, and now you're back down to 8,500.


SWAN: My question to you-

THE PRESIDENT: We'll be at 4,000. I'll get you the exact-

SWAN: When?

THE PRESIDENT: Very soon. Very soon.

SWAN: What will be the number? Very soon? 4,000?

THE PRESIDENT: Very soon. Yeah, very soon.

SWAN: Like how soon?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't want to tell you that. I don't want to tell you.

SWAN: That's big news.

THE PRESIDENT: What is? That is [crosstalk]

SWAN: It's going down to 4,000.

THE PRESIDENT: I've always said-

SWAN: Well, what about election day?

THE PRESIDENT: We will get largely out-

SWAN: On election day, how many American troops will be in Afghanistan?

THE PRESIDENT: Probably anywhere from four to 5,000.

SWAN: That's almost as many as when you came into office.

THE PRESIDENT: No, it's not. We had-

SWAN: 8,000.

THE PRESIDENT: We had much more. We had a lot of people over there too.

SWAN: 8,800 [crosstalk] troops.

THE PRESIDENT: A lot of people. And we did a good job. We wiped out ISIS. Let me just tell you what you don't see.

SWAN: Have you thought about going down to zero?

THE PRESIDENT: We took out, in Syria, we took out ISIS. We a hundred percent of the caliphate. When I took over Obama, it was totally rampant. ISIS was all over the place. We took them out. We captured them. We killed them a hundred percent, not 99%. I wanted to get out at 99. Everyone said, "Oh, please, would you stay?" I stayed. 99% was good, but a hundred percent of the caliphate.

We took out Soleimani. We took out al-Baghdadi. We took out people that nobody thought possible. Al-Baghdadi was the biggest terrorist of them all. They couldn't find him. I took him out. Soleimani, even bigger. I took him out. I've done things that no other president's done. None. I mean, fortunately, not too many. They should have never been in the Middle East. The decision to go to the Middle East and get into the Middle East was the single biggest mistake made in the history of our country. That's my opinion.

SWAN: You told Fox News recently that you couldn't say whether you'd accept the results of the 2020 election. What does that actually look like as the sitting president? I mean, it's unprecedented. What would that actually look like?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Hillary Clinton never accepted them.

SWAN: Well, she conceded on them.

THE PRESIDENT: I mean, she doesn't accept them and she got beaten very easily.

SWAN: But that's the important point. That's the important point. She conceded on election night. Now, she grumbled about it and said all sorts of-

THE PRESIDENT: Grumbled? Grumbled? She wrote books about it.

SWAN: Okay, fine, she wrote books.

THE PRESIDENT: And don't use the word grumbled.

SWAN: Fine. But-

THE PRESIDENT: She wrote books about it.

SWAN: That's fine, but I just-

THE PRESIDENT: She got beaten easy.

SWAN: I get it. I get it.

THE PRESIDENT: 306 to 223. That's a lot. That's a lot.

SWAN: I'm not disputing you beat Hillary Clinton. Listen, what of asking is you'll be the sitting president in the White House. What does that look like not accepting-

THE PRESIDENT: I'll tell you what it looks like.

SWAN: Are you litigating?

THE PRESIDENT: Let me tell you what it looks.

SWAN: Okay.

THE PRESIDENT: So we have a new phenomena. It's called mail-in voting, where you send, where a governor-

SWAN: New?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's new-

SWAN: It's been here since the Civil War. Americans have-

THE PRESIDENT: In terms of kind of the kind of millions and millions of ballots. They've never done anything like that.

SWAN: It'll be bigger this year because of the pandemic.

THE PRESIDENT: Bigger? Not bigger, massively bigger.

SWAN: Yeah, because of the pandemic.

THE PRESIDENT: So they're going to send tens of millions of ballots to California, all over the place, to who's going to get them. I have a friend who lives in Westchester County-

SWAN: They send applications, not allots.

THE PRESIDENT: His son passed away. He had a beautiful, wonderful son. Young man. Passed away seven years ago. He called me, he said, "I just got a ballot for my son, Robert."

SWAN: Probably an application.

THE PRESIDENT: "He died seven years ago." Somebody got at ballot for a dog. Somebody got a ballot for something else. You got millions of ballots going, nobody even knows where they're going. You look at some of the corruption having to do with universal mail-in voting… Absentee voting is okay. You have to apply, you have to go through a process.

SWAN: You have to apply for mail-in. It's the same thing.

THE PRESIDENT: Absentee voting is good. Look, you're sending it out-

SWAN: Let's do concrete. Let's do concrete.

THE PRESIDENT: Jonathan, they're sending out-

SWAN: Applications. You download them off [crosstalk]

THE PRESIDENT: Governors, millions of ballots. There is-

SWAN: No, they're not. It's applications. You can get them off the internet.

THE PRESIDENT: There is no way you can go through a mail-in vote without massive cheating.

SWAN: I honestly don't understand this topic with-


SWAN: The Republican party has an extremely well-funded vote by mail program. Your campaign puts out emails telling people to vote by mail.


SWAN: Your daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, she did robocalls in California saying it's safe and secure, mail-in voting.

THE PRESIDENT: Let me tell you. We have no choice.

SWAN: The Republic won. That was an all mail-in race.

THE PRESIDENT: Let me tell you. You ready?

SWAN: Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT: We have no choice because right now, we have, but we have many court cases that we're waiting. We have one filed in Western Pennsylvania. We have many court cases where we're trying to end it. We went through World War I, you went to the polls, you voted, we went through World War II, you went to the polls, you voted.

SWAN: You've had mail-in voting since the Civil War.

THE PRESIDENT: And now because of the China virus, we're supposed to stay home, send millions of ballots all over the country, millions and millions. You know, you could have a case where this election won't be decided on the evening of November 3rd.

SWAN: Absolutely. What's wrong with that?

THE PRESIDENT: This election could be decided two months later,

SWAN: It won't be two months, but what's wrong with the proper mail-in count?

THE PRESIDENT: It could be decided many months later.

SWAN: Have you discussed the-

THE PRESIDENT: You know why? Because lots of things will happen during that period of time. Especially when you have tight margins, lots of things can happen. There's never been anything like this when you try… Now, of course, right now, we have to live with it, but we're challenging it in many courts, as you know, all over the country.

SWAN: reporter asked you about Ghislaine Maxwell. You said, "I just wish her well, frankly. I've met her numerous times over the years, especially since I lived in Palm Beach, but I wish her well, whatever it is." Mr. President, Ghislaine Maxwell has been arrested on allegations of child sex trafficking. Why would you wish such a person well?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I don't know that, but I do know this-

SWAN: She has. She's been arrested for that. You know that.

THE PRESIDENT: Her friend or boyfriend-

SWAN: Epstein.

THE PRESIDENT: Was either killed or committed suicide in jail. She's now in jail. Yeah, I wish you well, I'd wish you well, I'd wish a lot of people well. Good luck. Let them prove somebody was guilty. I mean, you do know that she [crosstalk]

SWAN: Oh. So you're saying you hope she doesn't die in jail? Is that what you mean by wish her well?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, her boyfriend died in jail and people are still trying to figure out how did it happened? Was it suicide? Was he killed? And I do wish her well. I'm not looking for anything bad for her. I'm not looking bad for anybody. And they took that and made it such a big deal-

SWAN: I mean, she's a alleged child sex trafficker.

THE PRESIDENT: But all it is is her boyfriend died. He died in jail. Was he killed? Was it suicide? I do, I wish her well.

SWAN: Let's move to Portland. I'm sure you've seen the disturbing footage of people in fatigues beating the Navy veteran.

THE PRESIDENT: No, no, no, no, no, no. No. No.

SWAN: Well, it's there.

THE PRESIDENT: here you go, the fake news.

SWAN: It's not fake news, it's on video.


SWAN: Pepper spraying him.

THE PRESIDENT: For 59 days, these people were anarchists and agitators, and some protesters, but these were anarchists. These people were beating the hell out of the city. They were beating up our federal buildings and our federal courthouse. We told the police to stop it. You make sure. And the police wouldn't do it. Not the police-

SWAN: Your own justice department and Homeland Security Inspector General-


SWAN: But your Inspector Generals are investigating unconstitutional-

THE PRESIDENT: You're trying now to blame law enforcement instead of anarchists-

SWAN: I'm not.

THE PRESIDENT: Instead of Antifa.

SWAN: I'm not.

THE PRESIDENT: It's Antifa and anarchists that are causing the problems, not law enforcement. Our law enforcement, if we didn't have people at our courthouse, and they're strong, tough people, and they don't want… They try and be very good, believe me. But if we didn't have people there, you would have your federal courthouse, a $600 million building, you would have that thing burned to the ground right now.

SWAN: I'm asking you about tactics and about the unmarked vans where they're rounding people up. And I want to-

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, let me tell you about unmarked.

SWAN: Can I just finish my question.

THE PRESIDENT: Well let me tell you about unmarked.

SWAN: Could I just finish my question? Because it relates to this. I promise. This is from Rand Paul. "We cannot give up liberty for security. Local law enforcement can and should be handling these situations in our cities, but there is no place for federal troops or unidentified federal agents rounding people up at will." What is your response to Senator Paul?

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, these are Homeland Security people. They're securing a courthouse.

SWAN: They're border patrol.

THE PRESIDENT: They're Homeland Security.

SWAN: Elite units.

THE PRESIDENT: Border, hopefully they have ICE in there.

SWAN: Camo, gas [inaudible].

THE PRESIDENT: Hopefully they have ICE. Now, do you know why they're unmarked?

SWAN: Why?

THE PRESIDENT: Because these terrorists, these Antifa people, these people that are at anarchists and agitators, when they see the name on a uniform of a person, a policeman or a law enforcement person, they find out where that person lives. And then they go and they scare the hell out of the person's family. And so they do it for that reason. It's just common… There's nothing secret about this. And you know it.

You see what's going on right now. We have Chad Wolf. They have people. He's doing a fantastic job. He's the acting head. He's doing a fantastic job. Chad Wolf has pickets and very dangerous looking people outside of his house. He's going to be just fine. He's tough and he's got people, but if you have the names on all of these uniforms, you'll have these maniacs in front of their houses, scaring their family and their wives or husbands, whatever it may be. I think it's a very good reason not to have your name. Why should you have identification? "My name is Bill Smith and here's where I live and I'm a member of-"

SWAN: The really serious concern is the reports-

THE PRESIDENT: No, no, that's a serious concern.

SWAN: No, no, not about that. The serious concern is the reports of people being rounded up and not being told why they're being detained. That's what's being investigated by-

THE PRESIDENT: Why? Why are they being detained?

SWAN: Mr. President, the Inspectors Generals-

THE PRESIDENT: You know why? You know why they're being detained? Well, [crosstalk].

SWAN: There's an investigation. Do you support that investigation?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I haven't seen the result yet. Let me see the result.

SWAN: But you support the initiative of it?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I think that actually-

SWAN: You don't?

THE PRESIDENT: I think Antifa should be investigated, not the law enforcement. They're investigating, think of [crosstalk]

SWAN: They shouldn't be investigating?

THE PRESIDENT: Have you been watching television-

They're investigating-

SWAN: They shouldn't be investigating?

THE PRESIDENT: Have you been watching television?

SWAN: I have.

THE PRESIDENT: Have you been seeing the violence?

SWAN: Sure.

THE PRESIDENT: Now, if you watch NBC News like I watch NBC fake news. I'm watching it. Lester Holt, real beauty. I'm watching this NBC News sham, and you have a mayor named Wheeler and he's standing out there and he's being accosted by the people. You know that. I mean, it's horrible what they're doing to him in Portland, the mayor of Portland and he thought he'd go out. He'd be a man.

What they were doing and saying, and everything else to him, I happened to watch it on a different station. He had to get out. He had five security guards.

SWAN: I saw it.

THE PRESIDENT: He got out with his life. Okay.

SWAN: Mr. President-

THE PRESIDENT: Wait. If you watch NBC News, they make them like he's standing there bravely fighting with the people, in a positive sense, that everything is wonderful.

No. He went out there. He's lucky he got away with his life because they would've killed him. He had five guards, but NBC News showed it like he's standing with the people for justice. Look, those people, take a look at what they've done to the courthouse. Take a look at what they've done to the streets. Take a look at the violence.

SWAN: It's getting worse since they've gone in. It's getting worse.

THE PRESIDENT: Actually, it's getting better. We had a very good… We've arrested a lot of people and we now have a 10 year rule. You try not to knock down our courthouse-

SWAN: More businesses damaged, more violence-

THE PRESIDENT: You touch our courthouse, you go to jail for 10 years.

SWAN: Turning to the rest of the country, we haven't seen protests like this since the '60s. I mean, we're seeing-

THE PRESIDENT: These are Democrat-run cities.

SWAN: If I could finish my question. If I could finish my question.

THE PRESIDENT: And they're doing it for political reasons.

SWAN: You said you've done so much for African Americans.


SWAN: But there are Americans-

THE PRESIDENT: Criminal justice reform, opportunity.

SWAN: Yeah, I understand, but let me finish. There were Americans out in the streets asking for change. Mr. President, have you ever met with a Black Lives Matter activist to hear them out, hear their arguments?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Black Lives Matter started off to me very badly because it was-

SWAN: Did you ever meet with one?

THE PRESIDENT: … pigs in a blanket, burn them like bacon. That was the first time I ever of Black… That was three, four years ago. Pigs meaning policemen. Pigs is what they're referring to, in a blanket, fry them like bacon. So I got off to a bad start. I got off to a very bad start.

SWAN: Would you meet with a-

THE PRESIDENT: And so did [crosstalk].

SWAN: Would you with a Black Lives Matter activist?

THE PRESIDENT: I would. But I think right now when they paint-

SWAN: Why haven't you?

THE PRESIDENT: … the sign. Nobody's asked for a meeting, right? I've never been, nobody's ever asked me for a meeting. Let me tell you with African Americans, I'm doing very well. They had the best employment numbers they've ever had. They had the best job numbers they've ever had. They were making more money than they ever made. We were all set until we got hit by China with the virus. Jonathan, there was actually, we were becoming a very unified country.

SWAN: Do you believe that-

THE PRESIDENT: Because of success.

SWAN: I understand. Do you believe though, Mr. President, that many police treat black people differently from white people?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I hope not. I hope not. Certainly the…

SWAN: You've seen the statistics.

THE PRESIDENT: The knee on the neck was a disgrace. Okay?

SWAN: Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT: It was a disgrace.

SWAN: I'm talking about what does systemic racism mean to you?

THE PRESIDENT: I hope the answer to that question is no. Does anybody really answer that question accurately? Does anybody really know?

SWAN: But what about not hope? What about analysis? What's your cold-hearted view of it?

THE PRESIDENT: I have seen where there is a difference and I don't want there to be a difference. I don't like that there would be a difference. But with that being said-

SWAN: Why do you think Black men are two and a half times-

THE PRESIDENT: Police have killed white people-

SWAN: I know, but why do you think Black men-

THE PRESIDENT: … in larger number, police have killed white people.

SWAN: In quantity, but why do you think Black men are two and a half times more likely to be killed by police than white men?

THE PRESIDENT: That I don't know-

SWAN: Why?

THE PRESIDENT: … but I don't like it.

SWAN: But you must've thought about it.

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know why, but I don't like it. I do know this-

SWAN: Does it speak to something systemic?

THE PRESIDENT: … that police have killed many white people also.

SWAN: But proportionally, what does it speak to?

THE PRESIDENT: It speaks to something, if that's the number?

SWAN: It is the number.

THE PRESIDENT: Okay. If that's the number, it speaks to something that to me is unacceptable.

SWAN: And what do you do about it then?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think we've already done a lot of things-

SWAN: But you haven't, it still exists.

THE PRESIDENT: Let me just tell you.

SWAN: No, no, I understand your achievements. I know what you're going to say. I'm not suggesting you haven't done a lot economically-

THE PRESIDENT: I've done a thing called criminal justice reform.

SWAN: I get it, I'm just saying what changes-

THE PRESIDENT: And your friend President Obama couldn't get done.

SWAN: He's not my friend. I'm asking about a statistic.

THE PRESIDENT: He tried, but he couldn't get it done. I got criminal justice [crosstalk]-

SWAN: I get it. I get it.

THE PRESIDENT: I got opportunities on, I took care of the historically Black… If you look at what I've done for colleges, for Black colleges and universities, I got them funding. Obama never did it. I did more for the Black community than anybody with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, whether you like it or not. People say, "Oh, that's interesting."

SWAN: You really believe you did more than Lyndon Johnson who passed the Civil Rights Act?

THE PRESIDENT: I think I did, yeah.

SWAN: How? How possibly did you-

THE PRESIDENT: Because I got criminal justice reform done, I got prison reform-

SWAN: Lyndon Johnson-

THE PRESIDENT: I've done things. Well-

SWAN: He passed the Civil Rights Act.

THE PRESIDENT: Ask. Ask. How has it worked out? If you take a look at what Lyndon Johnson did?

SWAN: You think the Civil Rights Act was a mistake?

THE PRESIDENT: How has it worked out? Because frankly, it took a long time, but for African Americans-

SWAN: But you think that was a mistake?

THE PRESIDENT: … under my administration, Jonathan, under my administration, African Americans were doing better than they have ever done in the history of this country. So I did a lot, job numbers, all of it, money. They had money, they were getting great. Their percentage was up, their housing ownership was up. They did better than they've ever done until we got hit-

SWAN: I just don't know how you can-

THE PRESIDENT: … and now you know what we're doing? I'm building it up again. We're going to have it. Next year will be a great year, unless it's screwed up by somebody that doesn't know what he's doing, which could happen, but I don't think it will.

SWAN: John Lewis is lying in state in the U.S. Capitol. How do you think history will remember John Lewis?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. I really don't know. I don't know. I don't know John Lewis. He chose not to come to my inauguration. He chose… I never met John Lewis, actually, I don't believe.

SWAN: Do you find him impressive?

THE PRESIDENT: I can't say one or the other. I find a lot of people impressive. I find many people not impressive. But no, but I didn't go-

SWAN: Do you find his story impressive?

THE PRESIDENT: He didn't come to my inauguration. He didn't come to my State of the Union speeches, and that's okay. That's his right. And again, nobody has done more-

SWAN: Right, but back-

THE PRESIDENT: … for Black Americans than I have.

SWAN: I understand.

THE PRESIDENT: He should've come. I think he made a big mistake by not showing up.

SWAN: But taking your relationship with him out of it, do you find his story impressive? What he's done for this country?

THE PRESIDENT: He was a person that devoted a lot of energy and a lot of heart to civil rights, but there were many others also.

SWAN: There's a petition to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama as the John Lewis Bridge. Would you support that idea?

THE PRESIDENT: I would have no objection to it if they've like to do it.

SWAN: Yeah? It's a good idea?

THE PRESIDENT: Would have no objection to it whatsoever.

SWAN: Mr. President, you've been so generous with your time and we really appreciate it.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. Great honor.

SWAN: Thank you so much.


The interview was filmed on Tuesday, July 28 and aired Monday, Aug. 3 on HBO.

Donald J. Trump, Interview with Jonathan Swan of Axios Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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