Photo of Donald Trump

Interview with Peter Baker of The New York Times

February 01, 2019

THE PRESIDENT: How you guys doing? You're O.K.?

BAKER: We're good. How are you?

THE PRESIDENT: Very good. We had a busy day.

SULZBERGER: I can imagine.

THE PRESIDENT: So, we just had, this is from, they just delivered that to me from President Xi. You'll get a transcript of the meeting. The press was here. A lot of the press was here. A nice letter. They have a nice way of giving letters.

But we're doing very successfully.

BAKER: So you had the meeting today with the vice premier.


BAKER: Do you feel like you got a deal, or close to a deal?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we're getting closer. It's a big deal. It's a big deal. And we're going comprehensive. We're not just — He announced that he was buying — today — a tremendous amount of soybeans and various farm products. And I think you'll be given that information in a little while, too. But he announced. What he did was the vice premier came in. He was here for two days having meetings. He's leaving tomorrow. They're meeting again now. And negotiations are going very well.

THE PRESIDENT: That doesn't mean there are any guarantees. But I will say there's a very good feeling. There's a very good relationship. This is the letter. You can actually read it. This is the translated version. So you can get a print out of that. But that was given out, and it was also, I guess it was read. They had the interpreter read it.

BAKER: And do you feel like they're going to get a deal by March 1st? Would it take longer, do you think?

THE PRESIDENT: It's possible. It's a very short period of time for a deal this big. But it's very possible. But many of the points were agreed to. And some haven't been. I believe that a lot of the biggest points are going to be agreed to by me and him. In other words, they're just not going to be authorized to agree to certain things that you folks write about and read about — intellectual property and lots of other things. And I think that will be agreed to by me and him at the right time. Like when you make a big deal, or a big scoop, you have to approve that little thing. And I think they're probably waiting, they're waiting for me and him to sit down and agree on five points at the end, or 10 points at the end.

BAKER: What would that be?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think control is very important. I think the checking to make sure that — we're putting in a very strong system of checks and balances so that when we make a deal we know that it's happening. In other words, that it's being followed. And we've asked for the most stringent controls on that, because there's been difficulty over the years with certain places. And that's a very important element that's been agreed to. But you have to get it down in writing.

You're going to have intellectual property. You're going to have theft, because so many things have been, in theory, done a little bit differently. And I think that in the end we're going to have something that's going to be very special, if it happens.

I could have had a deal done, if I wanted to make — you know, most people thought it was going to be a deal where they buy a tremendous amount of corn and soybeans and that'll be it and everybody's happy and the farmers are happy. But he actually announced today — I wish you were here, because it was sort of a great thing to watch. The press was packed. A lot of Chinese press, too. And he announced that he's buying a massive amount of soybeans and various other farm products today. Starting immediately. And that's going to make a lot of farmers very happy. So you know, that was very nice.

BAKER: Do you think it's possible that you might still go, even if you reach a deal on all of the points you're trying to reach, leave some of the tariffs on? Is that a possibility?


BAKER: Indefinitely left on?

THE PRESIDENT: Peter, without the tariffs, we wouldn't be talking. And I make this point clear to them. We've never had a deal with China. We've never had a trade deal with China. You have the World Trade Organization, which is a disaster for the United States. The World Trade Organization is probably the worst trade deal ever made with Nafta being second. The World Trade Organization helped create China. If you look at China, it's flatlined. And from the day the World Trade Organization came into existence, it's a rocket ship. But just the opposite for the United States. That was a terrible deal for the United States and it was an unbelievably good deal for China.

BAKER: So some tariffs could remain permanent even with a good deal?

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, sure. We have 25 percent now on $50 billion. And by the way, Peter, that's a lot of money pouring into our Treasury, you know. We never made 5 cents with China. We're getting right now 25 percent on $50 billion. And then I was putting 25 percent at a later date, which date came and went — 25 percent or $200 billion.

HABERMAN, White House correspondent: You've talked about the sacrifice that this has presented for yourself, for your family, being president. For your business. Could you ever see a point in the next year where you say, "You know what, I don't need to do this again, I don't need to run for re-election"?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't see it, because — so I just gave you a list of a lot of the things we've done. And this list isn't even complete. I don't even know if you have it.

HABERMAN: No, I have it. I've got it.

THE PRESIDENT: Just grab it. Reading material for the night. I've actually had, because they've done things that are artificial. So there's been more of a burden on me than other presidents.

HABERMAN: Past presidents have done things that were artificial?

THE PRESIDENT: Past presidents, yeah. I think for the most part, yeah, past presidents. I really believe, when I say that we've accomplished — when you look at that list, whether it's the biggest regulation cuts in history, that's one of the reasons the economy is doing well. Before the taxes, actually. But the tax cuts, but so many other things when you look at that and you go down the list: Veterans Choice, V.A. Choice. They've been trying — as long as you've been writing they've been trying to get V.A. Choice. And now I'm going to do Phase 2 on V.A. Choice, which is, you know, the next step. But the first step was just a massive step. Nobody thought it could be done.

HABERMAN: What's left? What do you have that you would want to — why — what's the goal for the next term?

THE PRESIDENT: I think what we'll be focusing on will be national security, very much. So we've very largely — we're in the process of rebuilding the military. Which was truly depleted.

HABERMAN: So, there is no scenario in which you'd say, "I've done what I can," right?

THE PRESIDENT: No, because it's a very big job and there is a lot to do. And I would say that I would really start focusing — you know, we've done a lot on health care, and people haven't given us too much credit. We have a lot of the different plans, the cooperative plans and other plans. Health care was terminated, and if the Obamacare were repealed and replaced — except for John McCain, it would have been, you know, he campaigned against it for six years, and then when he had the chance, he went thumbs down at 2:00 in the morning.

Um, but, I believe it's going to be terminated, whether it be through the Texas case, which is going through the court system as a victory right now, because of, you know, the various elements of that case, you would think it would have to be terminated. But a deal will be made for good health care in this country. That's one of the things I'll be doing.

National security is very important and we're fighting over — a very important element is the southern border. When we talk about drugs coming from China, the fentanyl — you look at the heroin and a lot of the other drugs, they come from — 90 percent, more than 90 percent — from right across the southern border. And unlike what the Democrats say, they don't, you don't bring trucks of drugs through the checkpoints. You bring trucks of drugs by making a right 20 miles, and a left into the country. They're not bringing, you know, they bring massive amounts of drugs, and they do it because there's no barrier, there's no hardened wall that you can't knock down with your breath.

So, Maggie, here's the bottom line: I love doing it. I don't know if i should love doing it, but I love doing it.

We just had a deal —and I was so looking forward to introducing you because it was very impressive. You know the whole — this room was totally, it was a sea of seats, we had the entire cabinet. They are very impressive people, and I had it all teed up and I said, "Where are they?" Right? I said, "Where the hell are they?"

HABERMAN: We were in the security tent, sorry.


HABERMAN: [Inaudible]

TRUMP: What I'm saying, there's a lot, there's always a lot to do, no matter how much you do. I've done a lot, and there's a lot to do.

BAKER: Do you think you'll have a Republican challenger for the nomination? Is that something you —

THE PRESIDENT: I don't see it. You know, we've had polls as high as 93 percent. Which is the highest there is. Reagan was 86.

HABERMAN: W. was the only other one, right? George W. Bush?


HABERMAN: They seemed higher —

THE PRESIDENT: During, during a tiny little period, during the World Trade Center. That ended quickly.

HABERMAN: Do you look at Larry Hogan? Or Bill Weld, has that crossed your mind —

THE PRESIDENT: No. No. I have great support in the party. We have great support. I guess anything is possible. But look, we have among the highest polls — and actually the highest polls — but among the highest polls ever in the history of the Republican party.

Democrats, I mean the Democrats, I'm watching what's going on. They've really drifted far left. They may even be too left for you folks, you know. I'm not even sure. But they've gone pretty far out there. And, uh —

BAKER: Who do you think is their toughest candidate?

THE PRESIDENT: So, you never know that answer. You — somebody that you think would be the least tough is the toughest. I would say, the best opening so far would be Kamala [pronouncing as Kameela] Harris. I would say, in terms of the opening act, I would say, would be her. I think she probably —

HABERMAN: What stood out to you about it?

THE PRESIDENT: I just think she seemed to have a little better opening act than others. I think.

BAKER: Incredible crowd.

THE PRESIDENT: A better crowd — better crowd, better enthusiasm. Some of the others were very flat. I do think Elizabeth Warren's been hurt very badly with the Pocahontas trap. I think she's been hurt badly. I may be wrong, but I think that was a big part of her credibility and now all of a sudden, it's gone. And I may be wrong about that but, you know, I don't see it. Some — you know, a lot of the folks have not decided to run yet. They might not run.

HABERMAN: Joe Biden?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't — you know, I'd like to see him run. I'd like to see him run.

Because you pit him, and — you take what happened to Obama. When you look at my numbers, and you look how we've done for the economy, we had a news conference before, where we had a lot of workers behind us, manufacturers and workers from manufacturing plants, and it was really impressive to see what they've done. And they said, "Two years ago, we were dead," and now they're thriving.

You know, we've created over 500,000 manufacturing jobs, and the previous administration lost 200,000 over eight years and said that was the magic wand. I believe, I believe, Peter, right? The magic wand to get manufacturing back. I mean, manufacturing jobs are great jobs. Those are high paying, great jobs, and they make things. It's a very important thing.

So, I just think, I think when we have the lowest black unemployment ever —lowest Hispanic, you saw the Hispanic numbers. We were at, what, 19 points up? Where we have the lowest Asian [unemployment]. Where the women are the best in 52 years now. Where the unemployment numbers are the best in 51 years. Um, you know. That's a good record.

HABERMAN: Can I switch gears for a second? There's been a story in the news the last two weeks about your son-in-law's security clearance.


HABERMAN: Did you tell General Kelly or anyone else in the White House to overrule security officials? The career veterans —

THE PRESIDENT: No. I don't think I have the authority to do that. I'm not sure I do.

Haberman: You do have the authority to do it.

THE PRESIDENT: But I wouldn't. I wouldn't do it.


THE PRESIDENT: Um, Jared is a good —

HABERMAN: You never —

THE PRESIDENT: I was never involved with the security. I know that he — you know, just from reading — I know that there was issues back and forth about security for numerous people, actually. But I don't want to get involved in that stuff.

HABERMAN: O.K. Why would you want to — why stay out? You do have the authority to —

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. I just don't — I just, I never thought it was necessary. I also know him. He's a very solid person, and I just can't imagine he would have — I guess even, Ivanka, they, they, I heard that, uh, something with Jared and Ivanka —


THE PRESIDENT: But, uh, I don't believe I've ever met any of the national security — of the people that would do clearances. Um, and there'd be nothing wrong, I don't think, with me calling them up to the Oval Office and say, "Hey give these people, you know, clearances" —

HABERMAN: You just told me — [inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, yeah, so there, I, I mean, I take back the other — I didn't, I was answering a little bit different question. Uh, I have the right to do it, but I never thought it was necessary, Maggie. I never thought it was necessary.

HABERMAN: And you didn't direct General Kelly or anyone like that to do it?

THE PRESIDENT: No. And, and frankly, I never thought it was necessary to do so.

THE PRESIDENT: So I'll tell you a story that just happened. So it just happened. [To an aide] Will you get that thing we just sent out? Will you do that? I had a meeting — and bring the picture in, bring the picture — so I had a meeting with Gina [Haspel] who's very good and [Dan] Coats. And I was shocked and I was surprised because I saw it on television and I said, "Iran is a bad actor because if you read what they said."

HABERMAN: You mean you saw her testimony?

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. I said, "Iran is a bad actor." And I could tell you stories of things that we were going to do to them as recently as a week ago. I said, "Iran is a very bad actor. What's this like Iran is kindergarten stuff?" They said, "Sir, we never said it." I said, "What are you talking about?"

Then I said, "And ISIS — we almost have the caliphate 100 percent. What are you talking about?" Like ISIS has got — and I mean, I'm not, by the way — the defeat is an interesting word. Because you can say you have the caliphate, but you're always going to have people that escape the caliphate and you'll have people around. There's nothing — but that doesn't mean you're going to keep your armies there and everything. Because you're always going to have that. Somebody is going to walk into a store unfortunately.

But I said, "What is that all about? Second of all, third of all, you know how well we're doing with North Korea, what's that?"

They said, "Sir, our testimony was totally mischaracterized." I said, "What are you talking about?" And when you read their testimony and you read their statements, it was mischaracterized by the media.

HABERMAN: The media mischaracterized it?

THE PRESIDENT: You know what I mean. Because when you read their statement, it's not like it was portrayed in the media. Because I came in —

HABERMAN: What did they think they were saying? What did they tell you that they were —

THE PRESIDENT: When you see what they said, and they're, they're — let's put it this way. It was really very different when I read it. Because I came in here saying what is this? You mean you're — because one of the things they said very strongly, according to, was that Iran is, essentially, a wonderful place. And I said, "It's not a wonderful place, it's a bad place, and they're doing bad things."

And they said, "We agree." I said, "What do you mean you agree. You can't agree —" And they said the testimony was totally mischaracterized.


HABERMAN: So you're happy with Dan Coats?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm happy with Dan Coats. I am. That doesn't mean —

HABERMAN: Is that a change?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, no, everybody changes. You know, this business, other than me, everybody changes. You know, if you look at my staff.

So I wish you could have been here before. Because we had this whole side of the room with secretaries, every one of them. Sonny Perdue. Linda McMahon, big, a big sleeper, she's phenomenal. Somebody said, she's one of our best — you know and you don't ever hear about her or anything. We had Mike Pompeo. We had all of our secretaries, many of our secretaries here, probably half of them.

And then you had the China group over here, the delegation. And I'm looking and I'm saying these are really outstanding people. They're outstanding. Did you notice that today? How outstanding? We have a lot of great people.

Now I do tell the story about driving down Pennsylvania Avenue, you know. Because I'd been in Washington probably 17 times in my life. And on the 18th time, I was president of the United States. And you know, Washington wasn't really my place. And I didn't know people. I didn't know a lot of people. And I got — I put some people in that I wasn't happy with and I put some people in that I was very happy with.

But we've gotten it very — you know, as I've — now I know a lot of people.

HABERMAN: Do you ever — and I want to go back to your point about military intervention in a second — but do you have any thoughts about defense secretary and where that's getting in terms of —

THE PRESIDENT: So I wasn't happy with Mattis. I told Mattis to give me a letter. He didn't just give me that letter. I told him. And you could have seen that on "60 Minutes." I did "60 Minutes" and Lesley Stahl asked me a question: "What do you think of General Mattis?"

HABERMAN: You called him a Democrat, didn't you?

THE PRESIDENT: And I said let me be generous. But I just — I didn't like the job he was doing. I wasn't happy with it. I wasn't happy with the — I got him more money than the military has ever seen before. And I wasn't happy with the job that he was doing at all. And I said it's time.

That's why in the letter he wrote, "You have to have your own choice." The reason he said that was because I said, "You're just not my choice."

HABERMAN: Who is your choice then, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I have a lot of great people that want it. I also have somebody there who's really been very good. Pat, Pat Shanahan. He's acting. And he's been doing — Maggie, he's been doing a great job. Yeaaaaah?

AIDE: You just have some important calls whenever you're finished.

THE PRESIDENT: O.K., I'll be in in a little while. What's more important than The New York Times? Ok, nothing, nothing.

HABERMAN: We ask that of ourselves all the time.

THE PRESIDENT: So I'm sure you hear good things about him. He's a very solid guy. You know it's interesting, historically, you just never — you rarely put a military person in, which surprises me. When I first got here, I said what do you mean? That's the natural of all naturals. Actually you need special approvals to put them in, you know, etc., etc. Normally a business person goes in and I mean you have one exception or two exceptions, but historically a business person goes in to the secretary of defense.

BAKER: He might stay in?

THE PRESIDENT: Pat — he could stay. Pat Shanahan is doing a terrific job. A tremendous number of people would like that position. One thing — first of all, there's really no chaos in the White House, 'cause the chaos thing — you see it, you're here, you see what's going on.

HABERMAN: Why do people keep writing books saying that's the way things are?

THE PRESIDENT: Because that's the way they sell.

HABERMAN: So they're just making up all this? What about Cliff Sims?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I had this aide. I didn't even know who it was. I said who is Cliff Sims? Who is he? And he would take me to — you know I'd do like a little address — he'd come to — he'd say we're ready for the president. And he'd walk me down to wherever room we're doing a weekly recording or a monthly recording. I hardly knew the guy.

Now I — once they — I said show me what he looks like. And they showed me a picture. I said, oh, yeah, I know him. He's the video guy. This guy, now he made it sound like he's a top aide. What happens — and I've also had some very good books — but what — and I made a mistake.

The mistake I made is on a couple of books, I never spoke to the people. When you don't speak to the people, it's impossible to get—

HABERMAN: [Bob] Woodward?

THE PRESIDENT: Woodward was a mistake. And that was a mistake where they — where I believe he did, he notified a number of people. "I really want to speak to" — I would have spoken to him in two seconds. But I didn't speak to him and that was a mistake not speaking to him.

And it was a mistake of my staff. [Turning to the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders] You understand that? It was a mistake of my staff.

SANDERS: To this day, I've never had a conversation with him.

THE PRESIDENT: If I would have spoken to him, even if it was for a fairly short period of time, I think it would have been a little different. The other guy was a huckster, who did the book that did very well.

HABERMAN: Michael Wolff?

THE PRESIDENT: "Fire and Fury." It took my name — my name from my Korean situation — "Fire and fury like the world has never seen."

HABERMAN: I recall.

THE PRESIDENT: And again, I didn't speak to him. And I would have. I definitely — I never saw him. I did an article with him a couple of years before. And I met him at a house that I have in Beverly Hills. We did an interview. It was a decent story to be honest. It was, you know, a pretty nice story. But I should have seen him too as he was in the White House a lot — that was a [Stephen] Bannon deal. And yet Bannon, now, if you've seen him on an interview over the last six months, I think there's nobody that speaks better. It's a crazy situation.

BAKER: Do you talk to him?

THE PRESIDENT: I have not. No, I haven't spoken to him in a year and a half.

HABERMAN: The last time you talked to him was when you fired him?


HABERMAN: When he was fired, it was the last time you spoke to him? Or soon after?

THE PRESIDENT: I would say in that territory, yeah. I'm not sure that I spoke to him at all during. You know, maybe a phone call. But not, no, I don't think so.

HABERMAN: Speaking of former aides, we wanted to talk to you about [Roger] Stone.

THE PRESIDENT: Sure, now you know Roger didn't work for me in the campaign.

HABERMAN: Initially and then he —

THE PRESIDENT: Well, yeah, but that was before I — you know, that was either early primary or before primary.

HABERMAN: It was August or September [2015].

THE PRESIDENT: That was a long time. I will say this, I've always liked — I like Roger, he's a character. But I like Roger. For a team of 29 people with AK27s, or whatever they were using, to charge a house like they did at 6:00 in the morning. I think that was a very sad thing for this country.

HABERMAN: Did you ever talk to him about WikiLeaks? Because that seemed —


HABERMAN: You never had conversations with him.

THE PRESIDENT: No, I didn't. I never did.

HABERMAN: Did you ever tell him to — or other people to get in touch with them?


HABERMAN: You saw that was in the indictment.

THE PRESIDENT: Can I tell you? I didn't see it. I know what was in the indictment if you read it, there was no collusion with Russia. But that's in a lot of these things. And a lot of them are: They come in, they interview somebody and they get them for lying. I mean, you know.

I'll give you an example. So I never met Carter Page. I think to this day I never met Carter Page. I never met Carter Page. [George] Papadopoulos, I never met him, other than one time, where he sat at a table along with maybe 10 or 15 other people, because they wanted to set up a national security team. And I guess he has a certain expertise in national security. So he was at a table very briefly. I don't believe I ever spoke to him. You know there were a lot of people. I was there for a very short period of time. Never met him.

People have been treated very, very badly. This is a very bad thing.

HABERMAN: Who else has been treated very badly, in your opinion?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'd rather save it for later. We'll do something on it at the right time, but I did think this. When Roger Stone, who all of us know, I mean everybody knows Roger.


THE PRESIDENT: He was not my consultant. But if you read the papers you know it's like — the media, it's like — but I've always liked him. He's a character, and I'll tell you what people respect what he said. Bearing false witness, etc. But yeah, people do respect what he said.

HABERMAN: What he said about what?

THE PRESIDENT: Bear false witness. I will never testify against the president. He actually said at one time — you know he's said it numerous times, but I heard him say it one time he's done a great job, he's a great president, and I will not, you know, lie in order to — people respect that so much. They respect that.

BAKER: Sir, can we clarify the Trump Tower Moscow proposal, right? There was this discussion. And we've learned since the last, since the campaign, that this went on longer through the campaign than we had expected —

THE PRESIDENT: So let me tell you about about Trump Tower Moscow. This was a very unimportant deal. This was a very unimportant deal. No. 1. No. 2, this was a deal, the only thing you heard is through Rudy [Giuliani]. Is that what you heard? Through Rudy?

BAKER: More recently we heard through Rudy, he quotes you.

THE PRESIDENT: Rudy was incorrect. No. 1, he was incorrect, and we've explained that, he was wrong. Rudy has been wrong. A little bit. But what has happened is this. I didn't care. That deal was not important. It was essentially a letter of intent or an option. I'm not even sure that they had a site. And if you look at where that was sent to, that was a Michael Cohen thing. If you look, I always say, Why don't you bring this up, to Jay Sekulow, good guy. I think it was sent to almost like a public address for Moscow. If you take a look at it. Take a good solid look. The original letter or something was sent. They didn't even have anybody to send it to. But that deal is just like other deals. I was doing other deals. I was running for president, but I was also running a business.

BAKER: How late do you remember having any conversations about it in 2016? What was the latest that you remember?

THE PRESIDENT: I would say it was early to middle of the year. Now, I don't know that Cohen didn't go a little bit longer than that. I don't think it would be much longer. But then he could have come back to me and said, "Listen, I put it together." Because that stuff happens. You know, you think a deal — I was running for president, I was doing really well. The last thing I cared about was building a building.

BAKER: But you told people that you didn't have any business there. People might have misunderstood.

THE PRESIDENT: That wasn't business. Peter, that wasn't business.

BAKER: Isn't that misleading to say you weren't pursuing business there, right?


THE PRESIDENT: I had no money invested. It was a letter of intent, or option. It was a free option. It was a nothing. And I wasn't doing anything. I don't consider that even business. And frankly, that wasn't even on my radar. If you take a look at that, take a look at the deal. There was no money put up. There was no transfer. I don't think they had a location. I'm not even sure if they had a location.

BAKER: Clearly there was a hope of having money. That was the reason you were pursuing it, right?

THE PRESIDENT: My point is this — It was a free option to look at a deal, to look at deals. That was not like, "I'm going to buy a property in Moscow. I'm going to do — or I'm building a building in Moscow." Now, I would have had every right to do a deal. That's what I did. That's what I did.

Rudy was wrong in that he went — I think what Rudy was looking at, I think, was that in the statement I made to the Mueller group, we talked about during that period of a year, up until the election, we talked about that. So he may have been referring to that.

But the way I view it is early in the year to middle of the year, no interest. I had very little interest in the first place, and again, I viewed it as a free option. It may have been a letter of intent. I don't know exactly what it was called. But it was unimportant. And you know what was very important to me? Running for president. And doing well. But I was running a business. I mean, I would have been allowed to build 20 buildings. I was doing other things. I was doing a lot of other things. I was running a business. Because as you would know, there weren't a lot of people at the time that thought I was going to win. So I don't want to give up a year and a half of my life, not do anything, run for president, then have to go back and say, you know, "I could have kept running my business."

Very interestingly, you know, George Washington ran his business. You can, I guess, you can go long beyond the election, if you wanted to. You know. But I didn't do that.

BAKER: But there's a difference between running a domestic business and being possibly in business with Russian figures at the same time, right? You can imagine why people might find that concerning?

THE PRESIDENT: I have nothing. All I did was be a good candidate. Russia didn't help me. Russia did not help me. There was no collusion. There was none of that. I was a good candidate. I did a good job. I won't say whether she was a good candidate or not. I mean, the primary collusion was Hillary Clinton. If you take a look, Peter. I mean, look at that phony dossier. Some of that money, they say, went to Russia. [Tony] Podesta was involved with Russia. You look at the kind of relationships they had. They had real relationships with Russia. I had a potential, a deal that frankly wasn't even a deal. It was literally — I viewed it as an option. But maybe it was called a letter of intent. Something like that.

BAKER: Has Attorney General [Matthew] Whitaker given you any indication of whether you face any exposure in this investigation?


HABERMAN: Or your family?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't even talk to him about it.

HABERMAN: You never talk to Matt Whitaker?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't talk to him about it. How can you have exposure when you haven't done anything? I had nothing to do with any of this, other than that I was a good candidate that won an election.

HABERMAN: Has Rod Rosenstein given you any sense over the course of the last year about whether you have any exposure, either in — or there's any concerns, or whether you're a target of the Mueller report?

THE PRESIDENT: Well he told the attorneys that I'm not a subject, I'm not a target.

HABERMAN: He told your attorneys?

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

HABERMAN: Did he say that about the S.D.N.Y. [Southern District of New York] investigation, too?

THE PRESIDENT: About which?

HABERMAN: The S.D.N.Y. investigation. Because there's two. There's Mueller, and then there's the Cohen investigation.

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know about that. That I don't know about.

HABERMAN: Rod has never said anything to you about whether you're a target at all in terms of what they were looking for on Cohen? Has that ever come up?

THE PRESIDENT: No. I don't. We didn't discuss it.

AIDE: Mr. President, we're coming up on 45 minutes.

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, that's O.K. Rod told me I'm not a target of the investigation.


THE PRESIDENT: He did. He told me.

HABERMAN: Do you remember how long ago he said that?

THE PRESIDENT: I think the lawyers would speak to him a lot about that. Not a lot. But a number of times. He never said — I never asked him that question.

HABERMAN: But your lawyers have?

THE PRESIDENT: The lawyers ask him. They say, "He's not a target of the investigation."

BAKER: Can I ask, speaking of Mr. Cohen, you've said that investigators should be looking at his father-in-law. What did you mean by that?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's what I've heard. I've heard his father-in-law was — I'm not saying investigation.


BAKER: Can I ask, on the record, what's the purpose of saying that? Some people are wondering whether or not this kind of thing might count as witness tampering, that you're kind of publicly —

THE PRESIDENT: It's not witness tampering. It's not witness tampering at all. It's not witness tampering.

BAKER: What's your purpose, then? Help us understand that.

THE PRESIDENT: I did have to read what I said. What did I say? I don't know. What did I say?

HABERMAN: Just that people ought to be taking a look at Michael Cohen's father-in-law. And House Democrats have said they thought that —

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I will say this: I think people have the right to speak their mind. You know, speaking your mind. I've heard that for a period of time. But other people have said it, too. I mean, many people have said it.

HABERMAN: I want to switch back to something I wanted to ask you about before: You talked about, accurately, that you won in part because you've talked about these foreign engagements.

THE PRESIDENT: Because of what?

HABERMAN: Ending foreign engagements. And you have said we're not going to lecture the world. But you seem to be leaving open the idea of a military option in Venezuela. Am I reading that right?


HABERMAN: Why there, and not 100 other countries?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm not saying I'm doing anything in terms of the military option in Venezuela. But I can say very pointedly we're not taking that off the table.

HABERMAN: Why is that?

THE PRESIDENT: We're involved in wars that are 6,000 miles away. We're involved in wars where it's just absolutely insane what we're doing, and the money we're spending, where in Afghanistan, we're spending $50 billion. That's more than most countries spend for everything.

HABERMAN: But why leave it open in Venezuela as opposed to somewhere — what is it about Venezuela specifically?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think I'm not closing. I don't close it anywhere. I don't close it. Somebody just asked me, "Is there a military option?" I said all options are on the table. I'm not taking anything off the table.

BAKER: In Saudi Arabia, when you were in Saudi Arabia and I was with you, sir, and you said in Riyadh, "We're not going to lecture you, we're not going to tell you how to run your countries." What about Venezuela seems different than that? Because obviously it's a terrible situation there, but there are terrible situations in a lot of places.

MAGGIE: Peter's asking it better than I did.

THE PRESIDENT: There are terrible things happening in Venezuela.

BAKER: Absolutely.

THE PRESIDENT: I have access to things, Peter, that are absolutely terrible, what's going on in Venezuela.

BAKER: So that makes it an exception, in effect, to your standard you talked about in Saudi Arabia, of not lecturing other countries?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm just saying this: Terrible things are going on. Terrible things are going on in Venezuela. And I look at that, and I see what's happening. Now in Saudi Arabia, a lot of improvement has been made in Saudi Arabia. But you look at Iran, and they kill many, many people in Iran. You have the access and we have the access also. And Saudi Arabia also has a lot to do with economic development. They're a country that pays us a tremendous amount of money, creates a tremendous amount of jobs. And Saudi Arabia, I'm not making excuses for anybody. I think that was a terrible event. It was a terrible tragedy. It was a terrible crime.

HABERMAN: [The journalist Jamal] Khashoggi?

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Khashoggi. I thought it was a terrible crime. But if you look at other countries, many other countries. You look at Iran, not so far away from Saudi Arabia, and take a look at what they're doing there. So you know, that's just the way I feel. Venezuela is very much in flux. We've been hearing about it for probably 14 years now, between the two of them. And some terrible things are happening in Venezuela. So if I can do something to help people. It's really helping humanity, if we can do something to help people, I'd like to do that.

BAKER: What'd you say to Mr. [Juan] Guaidó, the opposition leader that you talked to?

THE PRESIDENT: We had a very good talk. Just more than anything else, I guess, I wished him good luck. It's a dangerous journey. He's in a very dangerous place. And it's a very dangerous journey. I watched him —

HABERMAN: There was a report that you were upset when you saw the Senate testimony of Bill Barr [the nominee for attorney general], when he was talking about his personal closeness with Robert Mueller. Were you surprised by that? And —

THE PRESIDENT: No. I didn't know Bill Barr, but I've always heard he was an outstanding man.

HABERMAN: Did that bother you?

THE PRESIDENT: And that's what I wanted for that position.

HABERMAN: It doesn't bother you that he's friendly with Bob Mueller? That's not a —

THE PRESIDENT: I did hear the statement and it was totally acceptable to me. I just want somebody that's a very outstanding person and who's going to be — I think he has a chance to be a great attorney general.

And they need it. They really need it. I mean they — You see what's happening. There's been turmoil between the Justice Department, the F.B.I. You look at all of the statements made. You look at all of the firings, not firings by me, by the way. But you look at all of the people that have left and been fired and terminated and all of the terrible statements being made. And it is a terrible thing that's gone on there.

BAKER: Have you talked about what he should do once he takes over, about those things?

THE PRESIDENT: Very little. I'll tell you what: What I talked about is the fact — I went into his past almost two years of being attorney general. I went into his life, as a, you know, after being the attorney general, which was very successful. He's had a very successful life, Bill Barr. He's very respected. I didn't know him, you know, until this whole situation — until, you know, it was time to look for an attorney general. So many people recommended him. So many people.

BAKER: [inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT: And again this isn't somebody — and I think I probably would be able to put up somebody that I know very well. I mean Kennedy used his brother, and so I would have been able to. But I wanted somebody that was respected. I think that he did very well at the hearing, really well, as well as, some people say it was as good as you can do. And I think he'll be a great attorney general. I certainly hope so.

BAKER: Were you aware of the memo that he had written and submitted to I think the White House counsel criticizing Mueller's approach.

THE PRESIDENT: I did not know that.

HABERMAN: You didn't know that?

THE PRESIDENT: I did not know. I mean, I read it afterwards. But I did not know.

BAKER: Did you know it when you picked him or you didn't know it at the time?

THE PRESIDENT: I didn't see the memo. I never read the memo.

HABERMAN: Since you're still in the middle of this negotiations about the continuing resolution, about the wall funding —


HABERMAN: This is your first experience dealing with Nancy Pelosi having the gavel as the speaker. Do you feel that you properly estimated her strengths?

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, I did. I did. I've actually always gotten along with her, but now I don't think I will anymore. I think that she's hurting the country very badly. I think she's doing a tremendous disservice to the country. If she doesn't approve a wall, the rest of it's just a waste of money and time and energy because it's, it's desperately needed. People are flowing in.

I mean, we have caravans coming in right now, 12,000 people. We have three of them lined up. And you know they're lining up from Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador. And they're coming in.

With a wall, you don't need very much help. We just had to move more military down there to handle the one that's coming up now: 12,000 people or whatever it might be. But they say it's about 12,000 people.

No, I think Nancy Pelosi is hurting our country very badly by doing what she's doing. And ultimately I think I've set the table very nicely.

BAKER: For —

HABERMAN: For what?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, they understand, Peter. They didn't know what was going on with the southern border. Now they know. They had no idea the amount of crime, the amount of drugs, the amount of human trafficking, which can be stopped with a proper system —

BAKER: So set the table for emergency declaration.

THE PRESIDENT: I've set the table. I've set the stage for doing what I'm going to do.

BAKER: And you'll wait out the 21 days before you take any action?

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, I'm going to wait until the 15th. I think it's a waste of time —


THE PRESIDENT: Well, based on everything I hear. Now they'll probably be overly generous with things that you don't need in terms of money. They'll give you more money than you need for things that won't help very much. And they'll give you money for good things, too. But based on what I hear and based on what I read, they don't want to give money for the wall.

You know I'm building the wall. You know that. I'm building the wall right now. I'm building — it's been funded, and we're buying it right. And we're renovating large sections of wall. We're building new sections of wall. We're building the wall. The wall is going up as we speak. We'll be up to, by the end of this year, 115 miles.



AIDE: That's either finished or under construction.

THE PRESIDENT: And that doesn't include large amounts of wall that we'll be starting before the end of the year. So we'll be up to hundreds of miles of wall between new wall and renovation wall in a fairly short period of time. It's the one thing. So I'm building the wall now, as we speak. And I'll continue to build the wall, and we'll get the wall finished. Now whether or not I declare a national emergency, that you'll see.

HABERMAN: You tweeted, sir, I guess it was yesterday, these all days feel like one day, but you tweeted that essentially that your intel chiefs, and this is what we were talking about earlier, needed to go back to school. You have at various points taken issue with things that your government has told you on climate change, on ISIS, on what we saw, though I understand that you're saying you think the press misrepresented what was said..

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you'll have to see, I mean you'll have to see. And you should call Dan and you should call Gina. I would like you to. You know them [inaudible].

HABERMAN: But just broadly, sir: Why do you find yourself at odds with your government —


HABERMAN: — and why do you feel in terms of what the advice —


THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, when I walked into the room, there's your picture, I guess you have it. [Hands reporters a photograph of intelligence chiefs meeting with him.] But when I walked into the room, I said, "What's the story with Iran?"


"We were totally misrepresented."

I said, "What are you talking about?"

"They misrepresented — "

HABERMAN: There was that time, though. What about the other times with climate change, or —

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you have to really take a look at everybody else. And if you would have been here today, and you would have seen this whole side of the room filled up with secretaries and people that are running government, you would have said, I don't get, I don't have a problem with anybody. I don't dispute anything.

You're talking about very little by comparison to the people that we're talking about. Great relationship with Mike Pompeo. That was a great choice. Great relationship with — Sonny Perdue is fantastic. Agriculture. He was very happy because China said we're going to buy tremendous amounts of farm products, O.K., agriculture products, in front of him. It was a gesture — a very big gesture — but it was a gesture. Very substantial amount of product. And he said he's starting today, which is pretty amazing. You know we're not going to have an agreement for a little while yet, if we have an agreement.

So when you look at the overall government, there's really very little dispute.

I mean Sarah, could I ask you two to speak up about that?

SANDERS: Yeah, I think the report you're referring to is the climate change thing is a career official's report, so it's not his appointees. And there's a lot of people within your administration —

THE PRESIDENT: You have a lot of people that are in from other administrations that frankly you keep because you're not allowed to do anything but keep them, O.K.? And so they'll do reports. And by the way, you're going to have people that are from my administration in years from now that would be very critical of perhaps another president where they disagree with something.

But as you know, you have many, many people in this administration and every other administration that wasn't put there by me, and they have to stay there. It's a job for life.

HABERMAN: You mean civil servants —

THE PRESIDENT: And they can be critical. And just like we put in a lot of great people, they'll be critical into the future. That doesn't happen at The New York Times.

Donald J. Trump, Interview with Peter Baker of The New York Times Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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