Main takeaways from Trump’s ABC interview: North Korea, Mueller and UFOs

President does not hold back in sprawling interview, slamming Robert Mueller and saying he'll never stop tweeting

Chris Riotta
New York
Monday 17 June 2019 15:43
'There's nothing wrong with listening' Donald Trump says he would accept dirt from foreigners about political opponents

Donald Trump provided extensive access and his unvarnished opinions on a range of issues in a new interview, discussing everything from UFOs to his 2020 re-election campaign.

Speaking with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, the president denied polling data that showed him trailing 2020 Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden, defended his apparent trust for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and revealed how he would like to be remembered after leaving the White House.

Mr Stephanopoulos followed the president for 30 hours as he went to Iowa, flying with Mr Trump on Air Force One and later speaking to him in the Oval Office and White House Rose Garden. The interview was released online in short clips over several days before airing in a 20/20 episode on Sunday.

ABC News published the full, unedited transcript of its conversations with Mr Trump on Sunday night. Here are the 12 biggest takeaways from the interview.

1. On North Korea

Mr Trump described the dictator of North Korea as “a very tough guy” and “smart person,” saying “he doesn’t treat a lot of people very well, but he’s been treating me well”.

He then seemed to defend recent missile testing by the North Korean regime, telling Mr Stephanopoulos: “That's something that a lot of nations test frankly.”

Asked if he thought Mr Kim was still building nuclear weapons, the president said: "I don't know. I hope not. He promised me he wouldn't be. He promised me he wouldn't be testing. I think he'd like to meet again. And I think he likes me a lot."

2. On Iraq

The president described the decision to “go into the Middle East” following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 as “the worst decision made in the history of our country”.

He then flatly told Mr Stephanopoulos: “By the way, Iraq did not knock down the World Trade Centre.”

“It was not Iraq. It were other people,” he added. “And I think I know who the other people were. And you might also.”

3. On health care

Mr Trump said Republicans would soon unveil legislation to overhaul the nation’s health care, saying the plan could be announced within two months or sooner.

The plan would arrive before the election, Mr Trump said, adding that insurance rates would supposedly be “much lower” than under former President Barack Obama’s landmark health care initiative, the Affordable Care Act.

4. On accepting foreign election dirt

Perhaps the most heated exchange between the president and Mr Stephanopoulos occurred when the two began discussing foreign election interference. Mr Trump suggested that he would not contact the FBI if a foreign entity provided his campaign damaging information on one of his political opponents in the upcoming election, saying: “Give me a break, life doesn’t work that way.”

“I’ll tell you what: I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life,” Mr Trump said. “You don’t call the FBI.”

The fierce backlash his comments sparked - including from normally loyal Republicans - led him to walk them back in a phone interview on the Fox and Friends news programme on his 73rd birthday.

5. On tariffs

The president insisted his trade war with China was working amid an escalation of tariffs against Beijing. “The tariffs are what is allowing us to make great trade deals,” he said.

His comments came as hundreds of major companies, including Wal-Mart and Costco, signed a letter urging the president to end the tariffs, fearing major job losses and economic decline.

6. On Special Counsel Robert Mueller

Mr Trump continued attacking the special counsel and the extensive report into Russian interference during the 2016 election.

He also denied he told former White House counsel Don McGahn to order the firing of the special counsel.

“That’s not what [Mr McGahn] said,” Mr Stephanopoulos replied.

“Excuse — I don’t care what he says,” Mr Trump said. “It doesn’t matter.”

7. On Twitter

The president effectively vowed to never stop tweeting throughout the rest of his tenure in the White House, saying: “I have so many people that would go — that would be very unhappy if I ever stopped.”

When pressed about his attacks on social media against his supposed enemies, and told by Mr Stephanopoulos that some of his supporters had said they didn't like it, Mr Trump said: “I bet they do like it.”

8. On federal interest rates

Mr Trump once again took the rare step for a president to speak so publicly about his criticism of the Federal Reserve, saying the economy would be doing better if it had not raised interest rates.

He took aim at Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell, saying: “Frankly, if we had a different person in the Federal Reserve that wouldn’t have raised interest rates so much, we would be at least a point and a half higher.”

9. On polls

The president said his campaign had cut ties with several pollsters after reports of leaked internal data showed him trailing Mr Biden in key states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida.

Mr Trump said those polls “don’t exist”, which seemingly contradicts a previous statement from his campaign, which described the data as “ancient” and said the figures were compiled earlier in the year, appearing to confirm the existence of the polling.

He also said his internal polls “show I’m winning everywhere”.

10. On UFOs

Asked about recent sightings by US Navy pilots of UFOs reportedly flying at hypersonic speeds, Mr Trump said he had been briefed on the matter.

“People are saying they’re seeing UFO’s, do I believe it? Not particularly,” he said.

The president added that “some of [the pilots] really see things that are a little bit different than in the past, so we’re going to see, but we’ll watch it.”

11. On Air Force One redesign

Mr Trump unveiled a redesign of Air Force One during the interview, showing Mr Stephanopoulos images of the presidential plane with a red, white and blue paint job in numerous concepts.

“Here’s your new Air Force One,” the president said.

The images arrived after Mr Trump announced the plane would be overhauled, an expected $3.9bn (£3.1bn) project.

12. On his legacy

The president said he wanted to be remembered as one who “loved the people, took care of the people, made our economy tremendous, built up our military, took care of our vets”.

“Somebody that really loved the country and did a great job, whether it's four years or hopefully it's eight years,” Mr Trump said, adding: “Because I still have work to do. Somebody that did a really great job for the country.”

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