Last night, the New York Times published an interview with Donald Trump that has since come under intense criticism for the way in which it was conducted. Michael S. Schmidt, who conducted the interview, failed to offer follow-up questions or challenge President Trump’s false assertions on several counts. The article, moreover, failed to provide important context to Mr. Trump’s answers. While we cannot conduct the interview on behalf of the New York Times, we here at Pajiba can annotate the Times interview by providing that crucial context.
Below are portions of the full New York Times interview. The bolded sections have been added by us.
During an impromptu 30-minute interview with The New York Times at his golf club in West Palm Beach, the president did not demand an end to the Russia investigations swirling around his administration, but insisted 16 times that there has been “no collusion” discovered by the inquiry, despite evidence of at least 31 meetings and contacts between members of Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.
“It makes the country look very bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position,” Mr. Trump said of the investigation. “So the sooner it’s worked out, the better it is for the country.” Most Americans also believe that Russian interference into our election also makes the country look bad, and many suggest that Russian meddling has called into question the legitimacy of Trump’s election victory.
Asked whether he would order the Justice Department to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, Mr. Trump appeared to remain focused on the Russia investigation.
“I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” he said, echoing claims by his supporters that as president he has the power to open or end an investigation. “But for purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.” In spite of his protestations to the contrary, Mr. Trump is not allowed under the Constitution to interfere with Department of Justice investigations. In fact, Mr. Trump is being investigated for obstruction of justice for involving himself in DOJ and FBI matters.
In the interview, the president touted the strength of his campaign victories and his accomplishments in office, including passage of a tax overhaul this month. Mr. Trump has repeatedly boasted about his campaign victory, though he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes, a sore point for the President. The tax overhaul, which disproportionately benefits corporations and the wealthy, was also the first major piece of legislation the President managed to pass in 2017, despite majorities in both Houses of Congress. Moreover, the tax bill broke several of Mr. Trump’s campaign promises, including his promise to remove the carried interest loophole.
Mr. Trump disputed reports that suggested he does not have a detailed understanding of legislation, saying, “I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most.” Mr. Trump’s Twitter missives, which frequently suggests that he does not have a firm grasp on the finer points of policy, belies this assertion. In fact, earlier this year, Mr. Trump seemed to confuse health insurance with life insurance on at least two occasions.
Later, he added that he knows more about “the big bills” debated in the Congress “than any president that’s ever been in office.” This is categorically false.
The president also spoke at length about the special election this month in Alabama, where Roy S. Moore, the Republican candidate, lost to a Democrat after being accused of sexual misconduct with young girls, including a minor, when he was in his 30s.
Mr. Trump said that he supported Mr. Moore’s opponent in the Republican primary race because he knew Mr. Moore would lose in the general election. In fact, he only supported Moore’s opponent begrudgingly, and under the advice of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. During the primary, Trump hinted on several occasions that he preferred Moore, and then he lashed out at establishment Republicans for pressuring him to support Strange. And he insisted that he endorsed Mr. Moore later only because “I feel that I have to endorse Republicans as the head of the party.” Mr. Trump gave a full-throated endorsement of Mr. Moore and even made a campaign stop on the Florida/Alabama border on behalf of the Senate candidate even though most mainstream Republicans withdrew their support of Mr. Moore after allegations of sexual misconduct with minors surfaced.
Mr. Trump repeated his assertion that Democrats invented the Russia allegations “as a hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election.” He said that “everybody knows” his associates did not collude with the Russians, even as he insisted that the “real stories” are about Democrats who worked with Russians during the 2016 campaign. The investigation into Russian meddling has been conducted in both Houses of Congress, where Republicans hold a majority. Moreover, Special Counsel Bob Mueller, a Republican, was appointed by a Republican, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The investigation, so far, has unearthed multiple inappropriate contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, including a meeting between Trump’s son, his son-in-law, and his campaign chairman with a Kremlin-backed attorney, where Trump’s campaign associates sought “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
“There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Mueller. Most Congressional leaders from both parties also believe that Mr. Mueller will be fair, though fewer share Mr. Trump’s confidence that he will be cleared of all charges.
Although Mr. Trump said he believes Mr. Mueller will treat him fairly, Mr. Trump raised questions about how the special counsel had dealt with the lobbyist Tony Podesta. Mr. Podesta is the brother of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, John D. Podesta, and Tony Podesta is under investigation for work his firm, the Podesta Group, did on behalf of a client referred to it in 2012 by Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman.
“Whatever happened to Podesta?” Mr. Trump said. “They closed their firm, they left in disgrace, the whole thing, and now you never heard of anything,” Mr. Trump said, parroting a line of thinking popularized by the Fox News Channel.
Mr. Trump tried to put distance between himself and Mr. Manafort, who was indicted in October. The president said that Mr. Manafort — whom he called “very nice man” and “an honorable person” — had spent more time working for other candidates and presidents than for him.
“Paul only worked for me for a few months,” Mr. Trump said. “Paul worked for Ronald Reagan. His firm worked for John McCain, worked for Bob Dole, worked for many Republicans for far longer than he worked for me. And you’re talking about what Paul was many years ago before I ever heard of him. He worked for me for — what was it, three and a half months?” Mr. Manafort was in charge of Mr. Trump’s campaign during the crucial period in which he clinched the nomination and accepted it at the Republican National Convention. Mr. Manafort — who is currently under indictment and set to face even more charges under a superseding indictment — worked for free, which apparently did not set off any alarm bells for Mr. Trump, despite Manafort’s known criminal associations.
Mr. Trump said it was “too bad” that Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. However, Mr. Sessions’ contacts with Russian officials, and inconsistencies in his confirmation testimony, made it necessary for the Attorney General to recuse himself. Mr. Trump did not directly answer a question about whether he thought that Eric H. Holder Jr., President Barack Obama’s first attorney general, was more loyal than Mr. Sessions had been.
“I don’t want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that, I will say this: Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him,” Mr. Trump said, offering no specific instances. He added: “When you look at the things that they did, and Holder protected the president. And I have great respect for that, I’ll be honest.” Mr. Trump, who expects loyalty from his staff, has demonstrated that such loyalties run only one way with the President, who has scapegoated several members of his administration in order to protect himself.
Mr. Trump said he believes members of the news media will eventually cover him more favorably because they are profiting from the interest in his presidency and thus will want him re-elected.
“Another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes,” Mr. Trump said, then invoked one of his preferred insults. “Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times.”
He added: “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.’ O.K.”
This claim seems dubious.
After the interview, Mr. Trump walked out of the Grill Room, stopping briefly to speak to guests. He then showed off a plaque that listed the club’s golf champions, including several years in which Mr. Trump had won its annual tournament. Asked how far he was hitting balls off the tee these days, Mr. Trump, who will turn 72 next year, was uncharacteristically modest. “Gets shorter every year,” he said.
Source: The New York Times