Donald Trump’s impromptu sit-down with the New York Times at Mar-a-Lago Thursday offered a 30-minute jaunt into the mind of a man burdened by the Russia probe, frustrated by foreign policy, and unconcerned with (or unaware of) the limits of presidential power.
Amid repeated denials of collusion with Russia, the president freewheeled on his relationship with the media, trade with China, health care, still no collusion with Russia, the tax bill, North Korea, and how he definitely did not collude with Russia.
The interview, which took place spontaneously after dinner at Trump’s Florida golf resort with no aides present, sent Twitter into a spin. Many users condemned the newspaper for letting the president ramble without properly holding him to account. Yet Trump holds forth unfiltered, he tends to make news. Here are five striking notes from the opus:
- Trump believes he has the authority to do whatever he wants with the Department of Justice. Speaking about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, Trump said the sooner the inquiry is finished the “better it is for the country,” but added he thinks Mueller will treat him fairly. “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” he said. “But for purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.”
- On the same investigation, Trump said the probe into Russian meddling makes the U.S. "look very bad" and "puts the country in a very bad position.” Repeating the phrase “no collusion” 16 times, Trump maintained the claims were cooked up by the Democrats as “a hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election” and said he believes Vladimir Putin’s denials. “I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country,” Trump said of the Russian leader.
- Trump said he is going to win the 2020 election because the media can’t do without him. “Newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there, because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes,” he said. “Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, ‘Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.’ OK.”
- Trump believes he is an expert on legislation, with a granular understanding of tax and healthcare policy. “I know more about the big bills than any president that’s ever been in office,” he said. “Whether it’s healthcare and taxes. Especially taxes.” Trump continued: “I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of healthcare better than most, better than most.”
- Trump railed against China following reports that Beijing has been flouting sanctions by illegally exporting oil to North Korea. He said his stance on trade with China had been “soft” hoping the country would rein in the “nuclear menace” of Pyongyang. “Oil is going into North Korea. That wasn’t my deal.” he said. “If they’re helping me with North Korea, I can look at trade a little bit differently, at least for a period of time. And that’s what I’ve been doing. But when oil is going in, I’m not happy about that.”