The 11 Most Bonkers Moments from Trump's Wide-Ranging Interview with the New York Times
Donald Trump sat down with New York Times reporters Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt for a long and winding interview Wednesday. The conversation proved two things: One, that despite claiming the Times is “failing” and is “fake news,” Trump desperately wants to be covered by the country's paper of record; and two, that the president's grip on reality, which was tenuous to begin with, appears to be slipping. Along with providing a list of his personal enemies, Trump offered his harrowing views on a range of subjects, from the FBI to the role genetics plays in his personal accomplishments.
Here are the 11 most bonkers moments from their discussion.
1. Nearly every angry, self-incriminating thing he says about Jeff Sessions.
Trump complains about Sessions recusing himself from the Russia investigation—the minimal ethical requirement for the attorney general. “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump says.
Later he adds:
So Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have — which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, “Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.” It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president.
What’s amazing about both of the above quotes—aside from the fact that they capture an American president publicly grousing about his attorney general—is how incredibly damaging they are to Trump himself. The president is admitting that he was aware of an investigation into his ties with Russia before he appointed Sessions, and that he hired Sessions because he thought he would obstruct that investigation. Why else would it matter if Sessions recused himself?
2. When he suggests special prosecutor Robert Mueller shouldn’t look too closely at his finances.
Asked if it would cross a “red line” were Mueller to examine the Trump family’s finances, the president answers affirmatively. Although he stops just short of saying he’d fire Mueller, Trump concedes that digging into his money would be a “violation” because “this is about Russia.”
It’s the equivalent of trying to prove your innocence to an investigator by shouting, “Whatever you do, just don’t look in there!”
3. When he claims the FBI should answer only to him.
Trump offers this lengthy statement to the Times:
And nothing was changed other than Richard Nixon came along. And when Nixon came along [inaudible] was pretty brutal, and out of courtesy, the F.B.I. started reporting to the Department of Justice. But there was nothing official, there was nothing from Congress. There was nothing — anything. But the F.B.I. person really reports directly to the president of the United States, which is interesting. You know, which is interesting. And I think we’re going to have a great new F.B.I. director.
Once again, he reveals a gross misunderstanding of how things work. The FBI isn’t there to serve at the will of the president, doing his bidding and reporting its findings to him. And it certainly doesn’t report to the Department of Justice “as a courtesy.”
4. When he ridiculously complains about 'conflicts of interest.'
Trump, who has refused to divest from his many business interests and flagrantly uses his office for personal profit, suggests that Mueller has “conflicts of interest” that may compromise his investigation:
So, now what happens is, he leaves the office. Rosenstein leaves the office. The next day, [Mueller] is appointed special counsel. I said, what the hell is this all about? Talk about conflicts? But he was interviewing for the job. There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point.
Trump seems to think the fact that Mueller interviewed to replace James Comey the day before he was hired as special counsel qualifies as a conflict of interest—a statement that suggests the president is both confused about and uninterested in what the phrase “conflict of interest” actually means.
5. When he insults his Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Still smarting over Sessions’ recusal, Trump spends a portion of the interview attacking Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, implying he’s a suspicious character of shady origins. “Who is he?” Trump asks rhetorically. “Jeff [Sessions] hardly knew.”
Later he seems to suggest that Rosenstein’s real problem is that “he’s from Baltimore.”
“So his deputy he hardly knew, and that’s Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, who is from Baltimore,” Trump complains. “There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any. So, he’s from Baltimore.”
6. When he admits he knew about Don Jr.’s Russia meeting, then immediately denies it.
Trump not only claims he knew of his son's meeting with a Kremlin-connected attorney and a former Soviet counterintelligence officer, but that it was set up with the explicit purpose of getting damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Then he seems to realize what he's just said:
TRUMP: I just heard there was an email requesting a meeting or something—yeah, requesting a meeting. That they have information on Hillary Clinton, and I said—I mean, this was standard political stuff.
SCHMIDT: Did you know at the time that they had the meeting?
TRUMP: No, I didn’t know anything about the meeting.
SCHMIDT: But you didn’t—
TRUMP: It must have been a very important—must have been a very unimportant meeting, because I never even heard about it.
7. When he talks about holding Macron's hand.
Two quotes from Trump, presented without comment:
So, when Macron asked, I said: “Do you think it’s a good thing for me to go to Paris? I just ended the Paris accord last week. Is this a good thing?” He said, “They love you in France.” I said, “O.K., I just don’t want to hurt you.”
He’s a great guy. Smart. Strong. Loves holding my hand... People don’t realize he loves holding my hand. And that’s good, as far as that goes.
8. When he claims he gave the best speech that has ever been given, ever.
There’s Trump bluster, and then there’s declaring that you gave the greatest speech any president has delivered outside this country:
I have had the best reviews on foreign land. So I go to Poland and make a speech. Enemies of mine in the media, enemies of mine are saying it was the greatest speech ever made on foreign soil by a president. I’m saying, man, they cover [garbled]. You saw the reviews I got on that speech. Poland was beautiful and wonderful, and the reception was incredible.
9. When he tries to pretend he isn’t under investigation.
Multiple outlets have reported that Trump is under investigation for obstruction of justice, but who cares? He's convinced his base will believe anything he says, and he may be right.
“I don’t think we’re under investigation,” Trump insists. “I’m not under investigation. For what? I didn’t do anything wrong.”
10. When he arbitrarily compliments Russia’s armies.
After a flawed military history lesson touching on Napoleon and Hitler, Trump rambles at some length about the greatness of Russian soldiers:
But the Russians have great fighters in the cold. They use the cold to their advantage. I mean, they’ve won five wars where the armies that went against them froze to death. [crosstalk] It’s pretty amazing.
11. When he starts talking about his family’s good genes.
At one point, Trump’s daughter Ivanka stops by with her five-year-old, Arabella. Trump calls his granddaughter over and has her show off what she’s learned in her Chinese language lessons. Always a firm believer in the innate superiority of the rich, he uses the moment to reaffirm his faith in eugenics:
ARABELLA: Wo ai ni, Grandpa.
BAKER: That’s great.
TRUMP: She’s unbelievable, huh?
TRUMP: Good, smart genes.