Interview with Leslie Stahl of CBS News "60 Minutes"
Leslie Stahl: Do you still think that climate change is a hoax?
The President: Look, I think something's happening. Something's changing and it'll change back again. I don't think it's a hoax, I think there's probably a difference. But I don't know that it's man-made. I will say this. I don't wanna give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don't wanna lose millions and millions of jobs. I don't wanna be put at a disadvantage.
Stahl: I wish you could go to Greenland, uh, watch these huge chunks of ice just falling into the ocean, raising the sea levels.
The President: And you don't know whether or not that would have happened with or without man. You don't know.
Stahl: Well, your scientists, your scientists--
The President: No, we have--
Stahl: At NOAA and NASA--
The President: We have scientists that disagree with that.
Stahl: You know, I-- I was thinking what if he said, "No, I've seen the hurricane situations, I've changed my mind. There really is climate change." And I thought, "Wow, what an impact. What an impact that would make."
The President: Well-- I'm not denying. I'm not denying climate change. But it could very well go back. You know, we're talkin' about over a millions--
Stahl: But that's denying it.
The President: --of years. They say that we had hurricanes that were far worse than what we just had with Michael.
Stahl: Who says that? "They say"?
The President: People say. People say that in the--
Stahl: Yeah, but what about the scientists who say it's worse than ever?
The President: Uh. . . you'd have to show me the scientists because they have a very big political agenda, Lesley.
Stahl: I can't bring them in.
The President: Look, scientists also have a political agenda.
Stahl: Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist--
The President: Yes. Yes.
Stahl: . . .the Saudi journalist, was he murdered by the Saudis? And did the prince give the order to kill him?
The President: Nobody knows yet, but we'll probably be able to find out. It's being investigated. It's being looked at very, very strongly. And we would be very upset and angry if that were the case. As of this moment, they deny it. And den-- deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes.
Stahl: Jared, your son-in-law. Got on the phone and asked the prince. Did he deny it? Did he--
The President: They deny it. They deny it every way you can imagine. In the not-too-distant future, I think we'll know an answer.
Stahl: What are you options? Let's say they did. What are your options? Would you consider imposing sanctions, as a bipartisan group of Senators have proposed?
The President: Well, it depends on what the sanction is. I'll give you an example. They are ordering military equipment. Everybody in the world wanted that order. Russia wanted it, China wanted it, we wanted it. We got it.
Stahl: So would you cut that off--
The President: Do I, well, I tell you what I don't wanna do. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, all these com-- I don't wanna hurt jobs. I don't wanna lose an order like that. There are other ways of—uh, punishing, to use a word that's a pretty harsh word, but it's true.
Stahl: Tell everybody what's at stake here. You know, this is---
The President: Well, there's a lot at stake. There's a lot at stake. And maybe especially so because this man was a reporter. There's something-- you'll be surprised to hear me say that. There's something really terrible and disgusting about that, if that were the case. So we're gonna have to see. We're going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment.
Stahl: You've had a string of wins lately. Let's see, the economy, the d-- the trade deal-
The President: Right.
Stahl: With Canada and Mexico, Kavanaugh--
The President: And South Korea.
Stahl: And South Korea. And Kavanaugh, the confirmation.
The President: There has been no Administration in the history of our country, and I say this openly and proudly, that in its first two years--
Stahl: Say this modestly. . .
The President: Well, it's not even that, it's a fact. Tax cuts, regulation cuts, the biggest regulations cuts in history.
Stahl: What about North Korea? Talking about accom--
The President: Well, I consider it a, so far, great achievement. Look, we--
Stahl: You say "so far"?
The President: It's always so far, till everything's done. I-- I-- you know, deals are deals, okay? Whether it's a real estate deal or a retail deal, it doesn't matter. But, I will say this. The day before I came in, we were going to war with North Korea. I sat with President Obama--
Stahl: We were going to war?
The President: --and-- we were gonna--I think it was going to end up in war. And my impression is-- and even in my first few months, I mean, that rhetoric was as tough as it could possibly get. Doesn't get any tougher than that. Nobody's ever heard rhetoric that tough. We were going to war with North Korea. Now, you don't hear that. You don't hear any talk of it. And he doesn't wanna go to war, and we don't wanna go to war, and he understands denuclearization and he's agreed to it. And you see that, he's agreed to it. No missiles.
Stahl: Do you trust him?
The President: I do trust him, yeah, I trust him. That doesn't mean I can't be proven wrong --
Stahl: Why would you trust him?
The President: --about it? Well, first of all, if I didn't trust him, I wouldn't say that to you. Wouldn't I be foolish to tell you right here, on 60 Minutes--
Stahl: Well, remember what Reagan said. "Trust, but verify."
The President: Sure. I know. It's-- it's very true. But the fact is, I do trust him. But we'll see what happens.
Stahl: But is it true that they haven't gotten rid of a single weapon, and they may actually be building more missiles-
The President: They want to--
Stahl: With nuclear--
The President: And I will tell you that they're closing up sites.
The President: Setting it up.
Stahl: Is what I said true, that they haven't? Gotten--
The President: Well, nobody really knows. I mean, people are saying that. I've actually said that.
Stahl: What? That they're still building missiles, more missiles?
The President: We don't really know, Lesley. We really don't know. But I assume--
Stahl: Suspect that?
The President: Let's say the answer is yes, okay? In the meantime, they haven't tested a missile. They haven't tested a rocket. They definitely haven't done a nuclear test because you know about them real fast. It sort of moves the earth. And we have a relationship now.
Stahl: One of the things that Kim has asked for is for you to ease the sanctions.
The President: We haven't done that.
Stahl: Are you prepared to do that? -
The President: No, No. I--
Stahl: What-- what does he have to do before you're--
The President: No I'm not doing it. This isn't the Obama administration. I haven't eased the sanctions. I haven't done anything. I haven't done anything. We're meeting. I believe he likes me. I like him. We have a good relationship. It's very important.
Stahl: I wanna read you his resume, okay? He presides over a cruel kingdom of repression, gulags, starvation-- reports that he had his half-brother assassinated, slave labor, public executions. This is a guy you love?
The President: Sure. I know all these things. I mean-- I'm not a baby. I know these things.
Stahl: I know, but why do you love that guy?
The President: Look, look. I-- I-- I like-- I get along with him, okay?
Stahl: But you love him.
The President: Okay. That's just a figure of speech.
Stahl: No, it's like an embrace.
The President: It well, let it be an embrace. Let it be whatever it is to get the job done.
Stahl: He's a bad guy.
The President: Look. Let it be whatever it is. I get along with him really well. I have a good energy with him. I have a good chemistry with him. Look at the horrible threats that were made. No more threats. No more threats.
The President: I get along with him. It's very important. China, let's go.
Stahl: I'm skipping across the world here. You've slapped a lot of tariffs--
The President: $250 billion.
Stahl: Gonna do more?
The President: Might. Might.
Stahl: Round three?
The President: They wanna negotiate, Lesley. They wanna negotiate.
Stahl: Are you ready?
The President: Look.
Stahl: Are you ready to--
The President: I have a great chemistry also with President Xi of China. I don't know that that's necessarily going to continue. I told President Xi we cannot continue to have China take $500 billion a year out of the United States in the form of trade and others things.
Stahl: And how-- how--
The President: And I said we can't do that, and we're not gonna do that anymore.
Stahl: How much squeezing of them are you prepared to do when American products are gonna be more expensive for American consumers in the end of all this?
The President: So, so far, that hasn't turned out to be the case.
The President: --if you think about it, so far, I put 25% tariffs on steel dumping, and aluminum dumping 10%, again.
Stahl: But they've retaliated. That's what I'm asking.
The President: They can retaliate, but they can't-- they don't have enough ammunition to retaliate. We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.
Stahl: Are you trying to sort of push them into a depression?
The President: No. No, although they're down 32 percent in four months, which is 1929.
Stahl: Well that's what I'm asking.
The President: I don't want that. No, I don't want that. I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our-- our markets are open.
Stahl: But you're in a--
The President: And it will be a fair deal--
Stahl: --trade war right now. Trade war.
The President: You call it war, I don't call--
Stahl: You-- you--
The President: --it--
Stahl: --you did today.
The President: I called it a skirmish.
Stahl: I heard you, you called it a war.
The President: I called it, actually I called it a battle. But, actually, I'm gonna lower that. I consider it a skirmish. And we're gonna win.
Stahl: You have also slapped some tariffs on our allies.
The President: I mean, what's an ally? We have wonderful relationships with a lot of people. But nobody treats us much worse than the European Union. The European Union was formed in order to take advantage of us on trade, and that's what they've done.
Stahl: But this is hostile.
The President: And yet, they-- it's not hostile.
Stahl: It sounds hostile.
The President: You know what's hostile? The way they treat us. We're not hostile.
Stahl: No, but can't you deal with--
The President: We've been-- we've been--
Stahl: --them without--
The President: --the stupid country for so many years.
Stahl: Are you willing to get rid of that Western alliance?
The President: Now, I like NATO, NATO's fine. But you know what? We shouldn't be paying almost the entire cost of NATO to protect Europe. And then on top of that, they take advantage of us on trade. They're not going to do it anymore. They understand that.
Stahl: Okay, but are you--it does seem this--are you willing to disrupt the Western Alliance? It's been going for 70 years. It's kept the peace for 70 years.
The President: You don't know that. You don't know that.
Stahl: I don't know what?
The President: You don't know that.
Stahl: Is it true General Mattis said to you, "The reason for NATO and the reason for all these alliances is to prevent World War III?"
The President: No, it's not true.
Stahl: What's not true?
The President: Frankly, I like General Mattis. I think I know more about it than he does. And I know more about it from the standpoint of fairness, that I can tell you.
Stahl: I'm gonna try one more time. Okay.
The President: I know-- and, Lesley, you don't have to try again. I know exactly what you're saying--
Stahl: Well, answer my question.
The President: The answer is this. I will always be there with NATO, but they have to pay their way. I'm fully in favor of NATO, but I don't wanna be taken advantage of.
The President: Yeah.
Stahl: Okay, people don't understand why you never have a harsh word for Vladimir Putin.
The President: Okay, you ready?
Stahl: I don't understand it.
The President: I have been-- you don't know what I talked about with Putin in the meeting prior to the press conference--
Stahl: No, I mean publicly. You never say anything harsh about him--
The President: Excuse me.
The President: I didn't? I'm the one that gave Ukraine offensive weapons and tank killers. Obama didn't. You know what he sent? He sent pillows and blankets. I'm the one-- and he's the one that gave away a part of Ukraine where Russia now has this--
Stahl: Well, I mean him personally Vladimir Putin--
The President: I think I'm very tough with him personally. I had a meeting with him. The two of us. It was a very tough meeting and it was a very good meeting.
Stahl: Do you agree that Vladimir Putin is involved in assassinations? In poisonings?
The President: Probably he is, yeah. Probably. I mean, I don't--
The President: Probably. But I rely on them, it's not in our country.
Stahl: OK, Why, why not-- they shouldn't do it. This is a terrible thing.
The President: Of course they shouldn't do it. And that's your--
Stahl: Do you believe, do you believe that the Russians interfered in the 2016 campaign, uh, election? Our election-
The President: Well, they-- they meddled. But I think China meddled too.
Stahl: But why do you say China meddled too?
The President: And I think other countries--
The President: And you wanna know something?
Stahl: Why do you say Chi-- why don't you just say—
The President: Well, let me ask you--
Stahl: --the Russians meddled?
The President: Because I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China--
Stahl: This is amazing.
The President: --is a bigger problem.
Stahl: You are diverting the whole Russian thing.
The President: I'm not doing anything.
Stahl: You are, you are
The President: I'm saying Russia, but I'm also saying China.
Stahl: What about the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions?
The President: Well, we'll see what happens come midterms. But--
Stahl: But everybody thinks, given the things you've said--
The President: He. . .I was disappointed that he recused himself and many people think I was right on that. I was very disappointed. Why should he have recused himself? So I was very--
The President: --disappointed but--
Stahl: So can I assume--
The President: --we'll see what happens.
Stahl: Can I assume he's gone?
The President: No. No. You can't assume that.
Stahl: Will you. Will you pledge-- pledge that you will not shut down the Mueller investigation?
The President: Well, I-- I don't pledge anything. But I will tell you, I have no intention of doing that. I think it's a very unfair investigation because there was no collusion of any kind.
Stahl: But you won't pledge--
The President: There is no collusion. I don't wanna pledge. Why should I pledge to you? If I pledge, I'll pledge. I don't have to pledge to you. But I have-
The President: I have no intention of doing that.
The President: Do you really think I'd call Russia to help me with an election? Give me a break. They wouldn't be able to help me at all. Call Russia. It's so ridiculous.
Stahl: So you've been president for almost two years. Is there anything that you wish you hadn't said, anything you wish you hadn't done? Do you have any regrets?
The President: So when I won the presidency, I th-- I-- I-- the press treats me terribly. I thought very strongly that, you know, the one great thing will happen is the press will start treating me great. Lesley, they treat me worse. They got worse instead of better. Very dishonest.
Stahl: Okay, is this. . this is what you regret?
The President: I regret that the press treats me so badly but--
Stahl: I'm-- I'm really asking do you--
The President: And despite that, my poll numbers are very good, so.
Stahl: Have you made any mistakes? That's my question.
The President: Everybody makes mistakes.
Stahl: And what have been yours?
The President: I could have been uh, earlier with terminating the NAFTA deal. The problem was, I was getting to know the leaders. I was getting to know countries. I didn't wanna do it right outta the box. So I waited a little while, but I could have done trade a little bit earlier.
Stahl: What about the forced separation of children from their-- migrant children—from their. . .
The President: Yeah. Well, that was the same as the Obama law. You know, Obama had the same thing.
Stahl: It was on the books, but he didn't enforce it. You--enforced it. You launched that-- the zero tolerance policy—be. . .to deter families with children coming--
The President: No, but then everybody decided and the courts don't want separation. And frankly, when you don't do separa-- when you allow the parents to stay together, okay, when you allow that, then what happens is people are gonna pour into our country.
Stahl: So are you gonna go back to that?
The President: Well, we're looking at a lot of things. Really what we wanna do is change the immigration laws, 'cause they were—they're a laughing stock all over the world.
Stahl: Are you willing though-- I think that you're saying you're-- it's under consideration.
The President: No, I want all the laws changed.
Stahl: But the children specifically--
The President: --there have to be consequences, Lesley, for coming into our country illegally. And part of the r-- I mean, part of the reason, I have to blame myself, the economy is so strong that everybody wants to come into the United States.
Stahl: Can I just ask this simple question, yes or no.
The President: Go ahead.
Stahl: Are you willing to reinstitute that policy? You said, "We're looking at everything."
The President: I will--
Stahl: Yes or no.
The President: I will only-- I can't-- you can't say yes or no. What I can say is this: There are consequences from coming into a country, namely our country, illegally.
Stahl: I'm not gonna ask it again--
The President: You don't have to.
Stahl: Because I know you won't--
The President: But it's the same as Obama.
Stahl: Okay. Changing subjects again-- you are the first president of the United States who never had a political post before, nor never served in the military. You come up here, you've been here for almost two years, what's the biggest surprise and what have you learned since you've been president?
The President: Okay. So I always used to say the toughest people are Manhattan real estate guys and blah, blah. Now I say they're babies.
Stahl: Who's the toughest?
The President: They're babies, the political people. This is the most deceptive, vicious world. It is vicious, it's full of lies, deceit and deception. You make a deal with somebody and it's like making a deal with-- that table.
Stahl: Give me an example.
The President: Well, I don't wanna give you an example. I'm not lookin' to-- in the meantime, nobody's been able to do what I've been able to do. Remember that. When you look at taxes, you look at regulations, you look at-- making deals with other countries. Nobody's been able to do anything like this. Actually, most people didn't even try because they knew they didn't have the ability to do it. But, it's a very deceptive world. The other thing I've really learned is I never knew how dishonest the media was. I-- I-- and I really mean it. I'm not saying that as a sound bite. I never--
Stahl: I'd like to--
The President: Knew how dishonest--
Stahl: I'm-- I'm gonna change the subject again.
The President: Well, no, even the way you asked me a question, like, about separation. When I say Obama did it, you don't wanna talk about it.
Stahl: No, I'm gonna run your--
The President: When I say I did it, let's make a big deal of it.
Stahl: I'm gonna run your answer, but you did it four times, so.
The President: I'm just telling you that you treated me much differently on the subject.
Stahl: I disagree, but I don't wanna have that fight with you.
The President: Hey, it's okay--
Stahl: All right, I'll get in another fight with you--
The President: Lesley, it's okay. In the meantime, I'm President--and you're not.
Stahl: This country is divided, polarized. Within families, there aren't even people who can talk to each other. What does this say about where we are as a country right now, all this division and strife and--
The President: Yeah-- I think that--
The President: --what's going to happen-- I think the economy's bringing people together. It was very polarized under President Obama, unbelievably polarized under President Obama. I can see the country uniting. I can see it. We have people, Democrats, who behaved horribly during the Judge Kavanaugh—you, you know what I'm saying.
Stahl: But when you won that.
The President: During the hearings for the Supreme Court, we had senators that behaved horribly.
Stahl: But when you won, you won. No-- no one is gonna argue with that.
The President: I won--
Stahl: You won. And then after you won, instead of saying, "Oh, let's all come together, this is wonderful. Let's heal all of this," you come out and bash the Democrats.
The President: Well, I bashed their attitude. I bashed their statements--
Stahl: But why not try to--
The President: Because they were--
Stahl: --bring us together?
The President: --so unfair to Judge Kavanaugh. I've never--
Stahl: But why not--
The President: seen anything like it.
Stahl: --why not try and-- we need to be healed. We need--
The President: I don't think they want to heal yet, I'll be honest.
Stahl: Well, you don't wanna heal yet.
The President: I think—I, I, I saw Hillary Clinton made a really nasty statement. I don't think they wanna be healed. I do wanna heal.
Stahl: I'm n-- I'm not talking about Democrat-- I'm talking about the country. You go out and you go to Mississippi.
The President: The famous Mississippi speech?
Stahl: And you mimicked Professor Blasey Ford. You mimicked her.
The President: Had I not made that speech, we would not have won. I was just saying she didn't seem to know anything.
Stahl: No you --
The President: And you're trying to destroy a life of a man who has been extraordinary.
Stahl: Why did you have to make fun of her?
The President: I didn't really make fun of her.
Stahl: Well, they were laughing.
The President: What I said the person that we're talking about didn't know the year, the time, the place.
Stahl: Professor Blasey Ford got before the Senate and-- and was asked what's the worst moment. And she said, "When the two boys laughed at me, at my expense."
The President: (shrugs) Ehh, uhh.
Stahl: And then I watched you mimic her and thousands of people were laughing at her.
The President: They can do what they-- I-- I will tell you this. The way now-Justice Kavanaugh was treated has become a big factor in the midterms. Have you seen what's gone on with the polls?
Stahl: But did you have to--
The President: Well, I think she was treated with great respect, I'll-- I'll--
Stahl: And-- but--
The President: be honest with you.
Stahl: but do you think—you treated her with--
The President: There are those that think she shouldn't have--
Stahl: Do you think you treated her with respect?
The President: I think so, yeah. I did.
Stahl: But you seem to be saying that she lied.
The President: W-- you know what? I'm not gonna get into it because we won. It doesn't matter. We won.
Stahl: Well. . .
Stahl: The "Anonymous" column that ran in The New York Times. The author, we don't know who it is. Whoever it is--
The President: Whoever it is. Maybe it was The New York Times too.
Stahl: (chuckles) Huh. . . .paints a picture.
The President: No, no, it's --By the way, you don't know how dishonest The New York Times is. It could've been The New York Times. I doubt it. But it could've been.
Stahl: Okay. I doubt it too.
The President: It also could've been any-- w-- well, don't count on it. It also could've been any one of 3,000 people.
Stahl: You have said that this administration is like a smooth-running machine. And yet, we keep hearing that the White House is in chaos.
The President: It's wrong! It's so false. It's fake news. I'm changing things around. And I'm entitled to. I have people now on standby that will be phenomenal. They'll come into the Administration, they'll be phenomenal.
Stahl: More people gonna go?
The President: Yeah, other people will go, sure.
Stahl: Because so many people, you have kind of a record of --on turnover.
The President: I think I have a great Cabinet. There're some people that I'm not happy with.
Stahl: Who are you not happy with?
The President: No, I don't wanna say that but--
Stahl: Come on.
The President: No, I don't want to say that. But I have some people that I'm not thrilled with. And I have other people that I'm beyond thrilled with.
Stahl: What about General Mattis? Is he going to leave?
The President: Well, I don't know. He hasn't told me that. I have--
Stahl: Do you want him to--
The President: --a very good relationship with him. It could be that he is. I think he's sort of a Democrat, if you wanna know the truth. But General Mattis is a good guy. We get along very well. He may leave. I mean, at some point, everybody leaves. Everybody. People leave. That's Washington.
Stahl: The first lady.
The President: Yes.
Stahl: Melania. She said that there are still people in the White House that she doesn't trust and that you shouldn't trust.
The President: I feel the same way. I don't trust everybody in the White House, I'll be honest with you.
Stahl: You go to a meeting, do you have to wonder, "Is he wearing a wire--"
The President: I'm usually --
The President: Not so much a wire. I'm usually guarded. And I think I'm guarded anyway. But I'm not saying I trust everybody in the White House. I'm not a baby. It's a tough business. This is a r-- this is a vicious. . . place. Washington DC is a vicious, vicious place. The attacks, the-- the bad mouthing, the speaking behind your back. --but-- you know, and in my way, I feel very comfortable here.
Stahl: It takes a president a while to find his sea legs.
The President: I think so. I mean, I felt comfortable at the beginning, other than it was a little surreal to say I'm the president of the United States, but I think that's true with everybody.
The President: Now I very much feel like POTUS. I do. I feel like the president. You know, for a little while, it's like-- "Mr. President, sir." It's-- even my friends, they call me, they-- they don't call me Donald-- they call me Mr. President. And I say, "Will you please loosen up?" I've learned on the job. I have.
Stahl: And you feel comfortable?
The President: I feel very comfortable, yeah.
NOTE: The President was interviewed by Leslie Stahl at the White House on Thursday, October 11, 2018. The Interview was broadcast on 60 Minutes on Sunday, October 14, 2018. This transcript has been extensively edited and corrected by The American Presidency Project.
Donald J. Trump, Interview with Leslie Stahl of CBS News "60 Minutes" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/332404