Trump’s tough-on-North Korea, toned-down-on-Russia Q&A session, annotated – Washington Post
President Trump participated in his most extensive Q&A with reporters in weeks on Thursday afternoon, taking questions both before and after a national security briefing during his 17-day “working vacation” in Bedminster, N.J. And he got a lot off his chest.
“It was like he was a dam that had suddenly burst free and he was able to unload a lot that was on his mind,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told The Post’s Philip Rucker in a must-read debrief of the whole thing.
The president was defiant about his North Korea saber-rattling — despite questions about whether it was too aggressive — but then he spoke about his desire to get rid of all nuclear weapons, or what he called “de-nuking” the world. He was also harsh on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), despite suggestions that picking that fight would hurt his agenda. But he was unusually understated about the Russia investigation, even praising former campaign chairman Paul Manafort after news broke that Manafort was served with a search warrant. Trump also set aside his usual “fake news” and “witch hunt” mantras in favor of more general comments about the matter.
Below is the full transcript of both the before and the after, along with our annotations and analysis. To see an annotation, click on the yellow, highlighted text.
TRUMP: Hello, everybody. We’re having some meetings. I know you’re going to be watching a couple of them. We have a lot of people here today, a lot of subjects under discussion, including Venezuela; including, of course, North Korea; and other things that I think we’re making tremendous headway.
We’ll be spending quite a bit of time here, and then during the weekend, as you know — toward the end we go into Manhattan where I have a lot of meetings scheduled in Manhattan.
Q: Mr. President, the North Koreans said yesterday that your statement on Tuesday was “nonsense” — that’s the word that they used. Do you have any response to that?
TRUMP: Well, I don’t think they mean that, and I think they — it’s the first time they’ve heard it like they heard it. And, frankly, the people that were questioning that statement, “Was it too tough?” — maybe it wasn’t tough enough. They’ve been doing this to our country for a long time — for many years. And it’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries.
So, if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough, and we’re backed 100 percent by our military. We’re backed by everybody, and we’re backed by many other leaders. And I noticed that many senators and others today came out very much in favor of what I said. But, if anything, that statement may not be tough enough.
Q: What would be tougher than “fire and fury”?
TRUMP: Well, you’ll see. You’ll see.
Q: Mr. President, is one of the options being considered a preemptive strike or first strike —
TRUMP: We don’t talk about that. I never do. I’m not like the other administration that would say we’re going into Mosul in four months. I don’t talk about it. We’ll see what happens.
But I can tell you that what they’ve been doing and what they’ve been getting away with is a tragedy, and it can’t be allowed.
Q: Mr. President, would you ever consider negotiations under different circumstances?
TRUMP: Sure. We’ll always consider negotiations, but they’ve been negotiating now for 25 years. Look at Clinton. He folded on the negotiations. He was weak and ineffective. You look at what happened with Bush, you look at what happened with Obama. Obama — he didn’t even want to talk about it. But I talk. It’s about time — somebody has to do it. Somebody has to do it.
Q: Mr. President, can you talk about your relationship with Senator McConnell?
TRUMP: I just want him to get repeal and replace done. I’ve been hearing repeal and replace now for seven years, but I’ve only been doing this for two years. And I’ve really only been doing this for six months. But I’ve been running, so now it’s almost two years. And all I hear is repeal and replace, and then I get there and I said, “Where is the bill? I want to sign it” — first day — and they don’t have it.
And they passed repeal and replace, but they never had a President, frankly, or a Senate that was going to do it. But they never had a President, so it didn’t matter. So I say very simply: Where is repeal and replace? Now I want tax reform and tax cuts. We’re going to reduce taxes for the people. We pay more tax than anybody in the world, and we’re going to reduce taxes.
So I say tax cuts, tax reform, and I want a very big infrastructure bill, where we’re working on that very hard on that already, and we can do that. And we may even get bipartisan on infrastructure, but we want to have it.
But I said, “Mitch, get to work and let’s get it done.” They should have had this last one done. They lost by one vote. For a thing like that to happen is a disgrace, and, frankly, it shouldn’t have happened — that I can tell you.
Q: Should Senator McConnell consider stepping down as Majority Leader? There’s some conservative analysts, including Sean Hannity, who say it’s time for him to retire.
TRUMP: Well, I’ll tell you what, if he doesn’t get repeal and replace done, if he doesn’t get taxes done — meaning cuts and reform — and if he doesn’t get a very easy one to get done, infrastructure — if he doesn’t get them done, then you can ask me that question.
Q: So what is that, a yes or a no?
TRUMP: You can ask me the — that means ask me that question. Let’s hope he gets it done.
Q: Mr. President, is the opioid crisis an emergency? And if so, why haven’t you declared it one?
TRUMP: The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially right now: It is an emergency. It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot effort, and a lot of money on the opioid crisis.
Q: But do you need emergency powers to address it?
TRUMP: We’re going to draw it up and we’re going to make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem, the likes of which we have never had. You know, when I was growing up they had the LSD and they had certain generations of drugs. There’s never been anything like what’s happened to this country over the last four or five years.
And I have to say this, in all fairness, this is a worldwide problem not just a United States problem. This is happening worldwide. But this is a national emergency, and we are drawing documents now to so attest.
Q: Mr. President, there’s been some mixed messages coming out of your administration on North Korea. Secretary Tillerson seemed to advocate diplomacy. (Inaudible) seemed to advocate —
TRUMP: There are no mixed messages. There are no mixed messages. I mean, to be honest, General Mattis may have taken it a step beyond what I said. There are no mixed messages. And Rex was just stating the view — look, here’s the view. I said it yesterday. I don’t have to say it again. And I’ll tell you this: It may be tougher than I said it, not less. It may very well be tougher than I said. Okay?
How about one more?
Q: Can you offer any assurance to the American people who are understandably anxious about the situation with North Korea? They see images of these missiles coming up in the air, the threats to Guam, they see your statement about fire and fury. Should they be comfortable that you have this under control?
TRUMP: The people of this country should be very comfortable. And I will tell you this: If North Korea does anything in terms of even thinking about attack of anybody that we love or we represent, or our allies or us, they can be very, very nervous — I’ll tell you why — and they should be very nervous. Because things will happen to them like they never thought possible. Okay?
He’s been pushing the world around for a long time. And I have great respect for what China and what Russia did and those 15 — we got 15-0 vote. I have great respect for China and Russia — what they did on sanctions. I believe that will have an effect. I don’t think it will have the kind of effect — even though we were the ones that got it. And Nikki Haley did a great job. We all did a great job. But I have great respect for what they did, I have great respect for the 15-0, but probably it will not be as effective as a lot of people think it can be, unfortunately.
Q: Can China do more?
TRUMP: I think China can do a lot more, yes. China can. And I think China will do a lot more. Look, we have trade with China. We lose hundreds of billions of dollars a year on trade with China. They know how I feel. It’s not going to continue like that. But if China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade. A lot differently toward trade.
So we will do, I think — the people of our country are safe, our allies our safe. And I will tell you this: North Korea better get their act together or they’re going to be in trouble like few nations ever have been in trouble in this world. Okay?
Thank you very much. We’re going down to the other side, and we we’re going to take a few more questions. Okay? Thank you.
TRUMP: Thank you very much. We appreciate it. We are having a meeting today. We actually had a much larger group than this. This is the finals. But we discussed many things. One of them obviously was North Korea. We discussed Venezuela. We discussed Afghanistan and the Middle East, generally. We had some very good meetings, some very good ideas, very good thoughts, and lot of decisions were made. This was a very important day, actually. We made a lot of decisions.
With that, if you have any questions. Yes?
Q: Did you make any decision on Afghanistan in order to add additional troops?
TRUMP: Yeah, we’re getting close. We’re getting very close. It’s a very big decision for me. I took over a mess, and we’re going to make it a lot less messy. But that has been a place — 17 years — our longest war, I read in one of your columns. And, frankly, it’s going to be a decision that’s going to be made very soon.
Q: And do you have full confidence in your national security advisor?
TRUMP: Yes, I do. General McMaster — absolutely. He’s our friend. He’s my friend. And he’s a very talented man. I like him and I respect him.
Q: Sir, why did you decide to announce the transgender ban reversal a couple of weeks ago? And are you betraying a community that you pledged to support?
TRUMP: No, no. Look, I have great respect for the community. I think I have great support — or I’ve had great support from that community. I got a lot of votes. But the transgender — the military is working on it now. They’re doing the work. It’s been a very difficult situation. And I think I’m doing a lot of people a favor by coming out and just saying it. As you know, it’s been a very complicated issue for the military. It’s been a very confusing issue for the military. And I think I’m doing the military a great favor.
Q: Mr. President, do you have any response to the Russian President expelling 755 workers from our embassies?
TRUMP: No. I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down on payroll. And as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll. There’s no real reason for them to go back. So I greatly appreciate the fact that they’ve been able to cut our payroll for the United States. We’ll save a lot of money.
Q: Mr. President, was it appropriate for the FBI to raid the home of Paul Manafort predawn?
TRUMP: I thought it was a very, very strong signal or whatever. I know Mr. Manafort. I haven’t spoken to him in a long time, but I know him. He was with the campaign, as you know, for a very short period of time — relatively short period of time. But I’ve always known him to be a good man.
Q: He was the chairman.
TRUMP: I thought it was a very, you know — they do that very seldom. So I was surprised to see it. I was very, very surprised to see it. We haven’t really been involved.
Q: Have you spoken to the FBI Director about it?
TRUMP: Excuse me?
Q: Have you spoken to the FBI Director about it, or the Attorney General?
TRUMP: No, I have not. I have not. But to do that early in the morning, whether or not is was appropriate, you’d have to ask them. I’ve always found Paul Manafort to be a very decent man. And he’s like a lot of other people — probably makes consultant fees from all over the place. Who knows. I don’t know. But I thought that was a very — that was pretty tough stuff, to wake him up. Perhaps his family was there. I think that’s pretty tough stuff.
Q: Mr. President, speaking of the Attorney General, have you — how would you categorize your relationship with Attorney General Sessions? Have you guys spoken about some of the differences you’ve had in the past?
TRUMP: It’s fine. It is what it is. It’s fine. He’s working hard on the border. I’m very proud of what we’ve done on the border. I’m very proud of General Kelly, what he’s done on the border. One of the reasons he’s my Chief of Staff right now is because he did such an outstanding job at the border. We’re down 78 percent. Nobody thought that would be — I mean, in the old days, with other administrations, if you were down 1 percent, it was considered a big thing. We’re down 78 percent at the border, and nobody thought that was possible. So I’m very proud of General Kelly. He’s now Chief of Staff.
At the same time, I’m very proud of what we’ve done over the last six months, between Supreme Court, between tremendous amounts of legislation that’s been passed. We had 42 to 48 bills passed. I’m not talking about just executive orders, I’m talking about bills passed. We had massive executive orders. We got rid of record-setting amounts of regulations, and a lot of it is statutory, where it’s a 90-day period that you have to wait. Then it’s another 90-day period, and you have to wait 30 days. Much more is coming now.
And I believe in regulation. You have to have to some regulation. But we’re going to have a small percentage of regulation compared to what we have. And I think that’s why you see business enthusiasm is the highest it’s been in 18 years; why unemployment is the lowest it’s been in 18 years. And the unemployment rate just came out; it’s the lowest it’s been in 18 years. And with that being said, we have companies moving into the United States, whether it’s Foxconn. You saw the two large auto companies moving back; probably they’ll go to Michigan, but they’re negotiating with various states.
We have had — we have done a lot in a short period of time. So I’m very proud of it. I think that General Kelly is going to be a fantastic Chief of Staff, however.
Q: Mr. President, are you going to increase U.S. military presence in Asia?
TRUMP: We are going to look at what’s happening in Asia. We’re looking at it right now. We’re constantly looking at it. I don’t like to signal what I’m going to be doing, but we are certainly looking at it. And obviously we’re spending a lot of time looking at — in particular, North Korea. And we are preparing for many different, alternative events if North Korea — if — he has disrespected our country greatly. He has said things that are horrific. And with me, he’s not getting away with it. He got away with it for a long time, between him and his family. He’s not getting away with it. It’s a whole new ballgame.
And he’s not going to be saying those things, and he’s certainly not going to be doing those things. I read about, ‘We’re in Guam by August 15th.’ Let’s see what he does with Guam. If he does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody has seen before — what will happen in North Korea.
Q: What do you mean?
TRUMP: You’ll see. You’ll see. And he’ll see. He will see.
Q: Is that a dare?
TRUMP: It’s not a dare, it’s a statement. It has nothing to do with dare. That’s a statement. He’s not going to go around threatening Guam, and he’s not going to threaten the United States. And he’s not going to threaten Japan, and he’s not going to threaten South Korea. No, that’s not a dare, as you say. That is a statement of fact.
Q: Mr. President, can you talk about the nuclear posture and what your priorities are there?
TRUMP: Yeah. Nuclear to me — number one: I would like to de-nuke the world. I know that President Obama said global warming is the biggest threat. I totally disagree. I say that it’s a simple one: Nuclear is our greatest threat worldwide. Not even a question, not even close. So I’d like to de-nuke the world. I would like Russia and the United States and China and Pakistan, and many other countries that have nuclear weapons, get rid of them.
But until such time as they do, we will be the most powerful nuclear nation on Earth by far. The first order I gave to my generals, as you know — you know, Mike — my first order was: I want this, our nuclear arsenal, to be the biggest and the finest in the world. And we spent a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot of effort. And it’s in tip-top shape, and getting better and getting stronger. And until such time as this scourge disappears, we will be so much better and so much stronger than anybody else. And nobody, including North Korea, is going to be threatening us with anything.
Q: Sir, what specifically have you changed in the nuclear arsenal? And the reason I ask is that a lot of experts yesterday, in response to your tweet, said that modernizing the arsenal takes many years; it can’t be done in six months. That’s a long process, and that’s only just begun.
TRUMP: We’ve done a lot of modernization, but we’ve done a lot of renovation. And we have it now in very, very good shape. And it will be in much better shape over the next six months to a year. It’s a very important thing. Actually, it was the first — the military is very important to me. As you know, I did extremely well with the military vote, Mike and I.
But we are — my first order was, we have to do the military, but before we do the military per se, we’re going to do the nuclear. And we are in very strong shape. We are going to be increasing our budget by many billions of dollars because of North Korea and other reasons having to do with the anti-missile. So we are going to be increasing our budget by many billions of dollars. We’ll probably be able to report that over the next week.
As you know, we reduced it by 5 percent, but I’ve decided I don’t want that. We’re going to be increasing the anti-missiles by a substantial amount of billions of dollars.
Q: Mr. President, can you share your latest thoughts on Iran, speaking of nuclear deals, and whether you feel like they are in compliance or will be in compliance?
TRUMP: I don’t think Iran is in compliance. We wrote them a very tough letter to the — as you know, to the Congress. I personally don’t think they’re in compliance. But we have time, and we’re going to see. We also put down a lot of defaults, or potential default situations. I don’t think they’re living up to the spirit of the agreement. President Obama in his wisdom gave them $150 billion. He gave them $1.8 billion in cash, which is — that’s a hard one to figure. But that was his decision. I think it’s a horrible agreement. But they are not in compliance with the agreement, and they are certainly not in the spirit of the agreement in compliance.
And I think you’ll see some very strong things taking place if they don’t get themselves in compliance. But I do not believe they are in compliance right now.
Q: And, Mr. President, what’s the latest on the leak investigation that the Attorney General announced late last week? And is there any separate investigation that you’re looking at —
TRUMP: Yeah, sure. We’re looking. We’re always looking. You have two leaks. You have the leaks coming out of intelligence and various departments having to do with Syria, having to do with all sorts of different places, having to do, frankly, with North Korea. And those are very serious. And then you have the leaks where people want to love me and they’re all fighting for love. (Laughter.) Those are not very important, but certainly we don’t like them. Those are little inner-White House leaks. They’re not very important. But, actually, I’m somewhat honored by them.
But the important leaks to me — and they’re leaks that the Attorney General is looking at very strongly — are the leaks coming out of intelligence. And we have to stop them for the security and the national security of our country.
Q: Mr. President, are you passing notes to the special counsel, Bob Mueller? Can you talk a little bit about —
TRUMP: No, not notes. We’re working with him. I mean, we have a situation which is very unusual. Everybody said there’s no collusion. If you look at the counsels that come in, we have a Senate hearing, we have judiciary, we have intelligence, and we have a House hearing. And everybody walks out, even the enemies, and they said, no, there is no collusion, there’s no collusion.
So they’re investigating something that never happened. There was no collusion between us and Russia. In fact, the opposite. Russia spent a lot of money on fighting me. And if you think about it, I want a strong military. You see our budget is up by — it will be hundreds of billions of dollars, our military budget. Russia doesn’t like that. Hillary was going to cut the budget substantially, the military budget. Russia is — very important for Russia — oil. Oil and gas. We are now an exporter — because of an incredible six months that I have — an exporter of oil and gas. That’s bad for Russia.
I always said, I don’t think Russia wants me because I want a strong military and I want low energy prices. Energy is a disaster. Low energy prices is a disaster for Russia. Additionally, it seems that Russia spent a lot of money on that false report, and that was Russian money, and I think it was Democrat money, too. You could say that was collusion. Plus, the Democrats colluded on the Ukraine. So they colluded. And then when you get down to it, why isn’t the FBI looking at the DNC server? You have a server that they refuse — the Democrats refuse to give to the FBI. Now, I don’t know how the FBI can investigate something if the DNC, the Democrats, refuse to give the server.
So we have an investigation of something that never took place. And all I say is, work with them — because this is an event that never took place.
Now, as far as somebody else, where did they file the right papers or did they forget to file a paper, you know, I guarantee if you went around to look at everybody that made a speech or whatever these people did, that’s up to them. Did they do something wrong because they didn’t file the right document or whatever? Perhaps. You’ll have to look at them. But I guarantee you this: Probably a lot of people in Washington did the same thing.
Q: Mr. President, given your harsh criticism of Democrats just now, how are you going to bring them in on things like infrastructure or —
TRUMP: Well, we’ll have to see. I’m not sure that we will bring them in. I mean, maybe we’ll bring them in, maybe not. I think the infrastructure bill will be bipartisan. In fact, frankly, it may have more support from the Democrats. I want a very strong infrastructure bill.
We’ve, as of this moment, spent over $6 trillion in the Middle East. As far as I’m concerned, when I say “spent,” we’ve wasted $6 trillion in the Middle East, and yet we can’t fix our roads and our bridges and our schools and our airports. And I think that’s a very sad situation. So I’m very strong on infrastructure, and a lot of Republicans are, but I know a lot of Democrats are also. I think that will work out. I think it’s going to work out very well.
Q: Mr. President, have you sought — thought about or considered leading the dismissal of the Special Counsel? Is there anything that Bob Mueller could that would send you in that direction?
TRUMP: I haven’t given it any thought. I mean, I’ve been reading about it from you people. You say, oh, I’m going to dismiss him. No, I’m not dismissing anybody. I mean, I want them to get on with the task, but I also want the Senate and the House to come out with their findings.
Now, judging from the people leaving the meetings — leaks — but they leave the meetings all the time and they say, no, we haven’t found any collusion. There is no collusion. You know why? Because I don’t speak to Russians.
Look, I won because I suppose I was a much better candidate than her. I won because I went to Wisconsin, I went to Michigan, I won Pennsylvania. I fought a smart battle. That’s why I win. I didn’t win because of Russia. Russia had nothing to do with me winning. We had a great team, and I guess I did a good job. And you know what, honestly, they spent much more money than I did, by a lot. You know that. They spent a lot more money, and, honestly, they did not do a very good job of campaigning.
Q: And one more question about Senate Leader McConnell. You talked about him outside a little bit earlier, but have you reached out to him since your phone call yesterday?
Q: And have you given any consideration to asking his wife, your Transportation Secretary, to help bridge whatever —
TRUMP: Elaine is doing a very good job. We’re very proud of Elaine as Secretary of Transportation — as you know — as you said, Mitch’s wife. She is doing a very, very good job. I’m very disappointed in Mitch. But if he gets these bills passed, I’ll be very happy with him. I’ll be the first to admit it. But honestly, repeal and replace of Obamacare should have taken place, and it should have been on my desk virtually the first week that I was there — or the first day that I was there. I’ve been hearing about it for seven years.
So repeal and replace should have taken place. The tax bill, tax cuts, tax reform, hopefully they get that done. I hope they get it done. And the other thing would be the infrastructure bill.
In addition to that — you know, we’ve passed a lot of things. We passed accountability with the VA. We passed a lot. We’re doing a lot of great work at the VA. And we’re doing a lot of great work all over. You look at what’s happening with the coal industry where they’re putting on — I mean, I looked at West Virginia the other day — I was in West Virginia making a speech, and they are doing great as a state. The great governor of West Virginia, Jim — who you saw — he just became a Republican. He left. This is the first time in many, many years that a thing like that’s happened. He just left the Democratic Party and he became a Republican, which was a great moment. Hasn’t happened in many years.
So we’re very, very happy with what’s happened. We think it’s been an incredible six months. We’ve done a lot of record-setting business. It’s incredible. You look at what’s going on with the economy. And, you know, to me, very important, you look at the enthusiasm of businesses. You look at companies moving back in. You just saw on Friday the two big car companies that are coming in. You saw last week, Foxconn. They make the Apple iPhones — they make all of it — desktops. They’re the biggest in the world. They’re coming into Wisconsin with an unbelievable plant like we’ve never seen before.
And I actually said to Tim Cook of Apple — I said, you know, Tim, I won’t consider myself successful as President unless I see you start building those big, beautiful plants that you have all over China — if you start building them in the United States. And he’s going to do that.
Q: Mr. President, you were critical of the intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War. Should we question the intelligence now we’re hearing about North Korea?
TRUMP: Well, it’s different intelligence. I have Mike Pompeo. I have great confidence in him. That doesn’t mean I had confidence in his predecessor. Okay? Which I didn’t, actually, although —
Q: But all the intelligence (inaudible) —
TRUMP: Although he did say good things about me. He did say he had no information or no anything on collusion. So I shouldn’t maybe say that, but I will say it. But I have tremendous confidence in Mike Pompeo. Dan Coats, fantastic. I mean, we have people. I think your new head of the FBI is going to be — I think I’ve done a great service for this country. I think that Christopher will do a fantastic job as the head of the FBI.
So, look, nobody has greater respect for intelligence than Donald Trump, but you have to have the right leaders. I think we have great leaders right now. And you can look at the intelligence over the years. It was intelligence that got people to make one of the worst decisions ever made in the history of our country — going into Iraq. Because they said there were no weapons. You know, you look at it — it ended up being there were no weapons of mass destruction. I mean, listening to them, they said weapons of mass destruction were all over the place, but they were not there. That was intelligence.
I have great respect for intelligence as led by the people that I have in charge now. We have great people, and I think it’s going to lead us to tremendous victories. And that’s what we need.
Q: What is that intelligence telling you about North Korea and the nuclear —
TRUMP: It’s telling me a lot of things, but you’ll probably find out about it before anybody else, right? (Laughter.) With your leaks. We got to stop the leaks. The leaks are very dangerous for our country. But I have great respect for the intelligence community. And I think with the leadership we have right now, hopefully it will be a very, very successful eight years for this country. And then, after that, we’ll continue onward.
But we have a lot of things we have to straighten out. You have the Middle East, you have North Korea. We have a lot of places of tremendous conflict and tremendous danger for this country.
I will say, getting the 15-0 vote at the United Nations from the Security Council the other day, that’s something that very few Presidents would have been able to get. And I have great respect for the fact that China and Russia went along with it. That was a tremendous day for the United States. I think it will have a strong impact on North Korea. I don’t know that it will be the end all, but I think it will be a very, very — I think it will have a big impact on North Korea and what they’re doing.
Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
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