Excerpts From Trump’s Interview With The Times
Posted December 28, 2017 11:39 p.m. EST
President Donald Trump spoke on Thursday with a reporter from The New York Times, Michael S. Schmidt. The interview took place in the Grill Room of his golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida, whose noise made some portions at times hard to hear.
The following are excerpts from that conversation, transcribed by The Times. They have been lightly edited for content and clarity, and omit several off-the-record comments and asides.
The interview started with a discussion of an interview Schmidt conducted with Trump in July, when Trump said he would not have appointed Jeff Sessions as attorney general had he known that Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
DONALD TRUMP: I thought it was a terrible thing he did. [Inaudible.] I thought it was certainly unnecessary, I thought it was a terrible thing. But I think it’s all worked out because frankly there is absolutely no collusion, that’s been proven by every Democrat is saying it.
MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT: You’re OK with me recording, right?
TRUMP: Yeah. Virtually every Democrat has said there is no collusion. There is no collusion. And even these committees that have been set up. If you look at what’s going on — and in fact, what it’s done is, it’s really angered the base and made the base stronger. My base is stronger than it’s ever been. Great congressmen, in particular, some of the congressmen have been unbelievable in pointing out what a witch hunt the whole thing is. So, I think it’s been proven that there is no collusion.
And by the way, I didn’t deal with Russia. I won because I was a better candidate by a lot. I won because I campaigned properly and she didn’t. She campaigned for the popular vote. I campaigned for the Electoral College. And you know, it is a totally different thing, Mike. You know the Electoral College, it’s like a track star. If you’re going to run the 100-yard dash, you work out differently than if you’re going to run the 1,000 meters or the mile.
And it’s different. It’s in golf. If you have a tournament and you have match play or stroke play, you prepare differently, believe it or not. It’s different. Match play is very different than stroke play. And you prepare. So I went to Maine five times, I went to [inaudible], the genius of the Electoral College is that you go to places you might not go to.
And that’s exactly what [inaudible]. Otherwise, I would have gone to New York, California, Texas and Florida.
SCHMIDT: You would have run completely differently.
TRUMP: It would have been a whole different thing. The genius is that the popular vote is a much different form of campaigning. Hillary never understood that.
SCHMIDT: What’s your expectation on Mueller? When do you —
TRUMP: I have no expectation. I can only tell you that there is absolutely no collusion. Everybody knows it. And you know who knows it better than anybody? The Democrats. They walk around blinking at each other.
SCHMIDT: But when do you think he’ll be done in regards to you —
TRUMP: I don’t know.
SCHMIDT: But does that bother you?
TRUMP: No, it doesn’t bother me because I hope that he’s going to be fair. I think that he’s going to be fair. And based on that [inaudible]. There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair. And if he’s fair — because everybody knows the answer already, Michael. I want you to treat me fairly. OK?
SCHMIDT: Believe me. This is —
TRUMP: Everybody knows the answer already. There was no collusion. None whatsoever.
TRUMP: Maybe I’ll just say a little bit of a [inaudible]. I’ve always found Paul Manafort to be a very nice man. And I found him to be an honorable person. Paul only worked for me for a few months. 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, 3 1/2 months?
SCHMIDT: A very short period of time.
TRUMP: Three and a half months. [Inaudible] So, that’s that. Let’s just say — I think that Bob Mueller will be fair, and everybody knows that there was no collusion. I saw Dianne Feinstein the other day on television saying there is no collusion. She’s the head of the committee. The Republicans, in terms of the House committees, they come out, they’re so angry because there is no collusion. So, I actually think that it’s turning out — I actually think it’s turning to the Democrats because there was collusion on behalf of the Democrats. There was collusion with the Russians and the Democrats. A lot of collusion.
TRUMP: Starting with the dossier. But going into so many other elements. And Podesta’s firm.
SCHMIDT: That’s true. But in terms of, the lawyers said it would be done by, your guys said, it would be done by Thanksgiving, it would be done by Christmas. What are they telling you now? What are they telling you?
TRUMP: [Inaudible.] There was tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the Democrats. There was no collusion with respect to my campaign. I think I’ll be treated fairly. Timingwise, I can’t tell you. I just don’t know. But I think we’ll be treated fairly.
SCHMIDT: But you’re not worked up about the timing?
TRUMP: Well, I think it’s bad for the country. The only thing that bothers me about timing, I think it’s a very bad thing for the country. Because it makes the country look bad, it makes the country look very bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position. So the sooner it’s worked out, the better it is for the country.
But there is tremendous collusion with the Russians and with the Democratic Party. Including all of the stuff with the — and then whatever happened to the Pakistani guy, that had the two, you know, whatever happened to this Pakistani guy who worked with the DNC?
Whatever happened to them? With the two servers that they broke up into a million pieces? Whatever happened to him? That was a big story. Now all of sudden [inaudible]. So I know The New York Times is going to — because those are real stories. Whatever happened to the Hillary Clinton deleted 33,000 emails after she got [inaudible] — which you guys wrote, but then you dropped — was that you?
SCHMIDT: You control the Justice Department. Should they reopen that email investigation?
TRUMP: What I’ve done is, I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department. But for purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.
TRUMP: For purposes of the Justice Department, I watched Alan Dershowitz the other day, who by the way, says I, says this is a ridiculous —
SCHMIDT: He’s been very good to you.
TRUMP: He’s been amazing. And he’s a liberal Democrat. I don’t know him. He’s a liberal Democrat. I watched Alan Dershowitz the other day, he said, No. 1, there is no collusion, No. 2, collusion is not a crime, but even if it was a crime, there was no collusion. And he said that very strongly. He said there was no collusion. And he has studied this thing very closely. I’ve seen him a number of times. There is no collusion, and even if there was, it’s not a crime. But there’s no collusion. I don’t even say [inaudible]. I don’t even go that far.
TRUMP: So for the purposes of what’s going on with this phony Russian deal, which, by the way, you’ve heard me say it, is only an excuse for losing an election that they should have won, because it’s very hard for a Republican to win the Electoral College. OK? You start off with New York, California and Illinois against you. That means you have to run the East Coast, which I did, and everything else. Which I did and then won Wisconsin and Michigan. [Inaudible.] So the Democrats. ... [Inaudible.] ... They thought there was no way for a Republican, not me, a Republican, to win the Electoral College. Well, they’re [inaudible]. They made the Russian story up as a hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election that in theory Democrats should always win with the Electoral College. The Electoral College is so much better suited to the Democrats [inaudible]. But it didn’t work out that way. And I will tell you they cannot believe that this became a story.
SCHMIDT: So they had to do this to come after you, to undercut you?
TRUMP: No, no, they thought it would be a one-day story, an excuse, and it just kept going and going and going. It’s too bad Jeff recused himself. I like Jeff, but it’s too bad he recused himself. I thought. ... Many people will tell you that something is [inaudible].
SCHMIDT: Do you think Holder was more loyal to ... .
TRUMP: 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. When you look at the IRS scandal, when you look at the guns for whatever, when you look at all of the tremendous, ah, real problems they had, not made-up problems like Russian collusion, these were real problems. 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, I have great respect for that.
SCHMIDT: Tell me about what you were saying that the Democrats. ... [Inaudible.] ... Tell me about the Democrats on the tax bill, which you were telling me about. Explain that to me, I thought that was interesting.
TRUMP: So. ... We started taxes. And we don’t hear from the Democrats. You know, we hear bullshit from the Democrats. Like Joe Manchin. Joe’s a nice guy.
SCHMIDT: He is a very nice guy.
TRUMP: But he talks. But he doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t do. “Hey, let’s get together, let’s do bipartisan.” I say, “Good, let’s go.” Then you don’t hear from him again. I like Joe. You know, it’s like he’s the great centrist. But he’s really not a centrist. And I think the people of West Virginia will see that. He’s not a centrist. ... I’m the one that saved coal. I’m the one that created jobs. You know West Virginia is doing fantastically now.
SCHMIDT: It’s a big. ... It’s a very popular place for you.
TRUMP: It’s the biggest turnaround. West Virginia, their average, their GDP is the biggest turnaround after Texas. Texas [inaudible]. ... The second percentage gain in GDP [Inaudible.] And I won that state by 43 points against crooked Hillary Clinton. And I’ll tell you, I think Joe, ah. ... I think there’s a lot of talk. ... A lot of talk. I think we have four or five senators that [inaudible]. Just so you understand, Alabama. ... I wasn’t for him. I was for Strange.
SCHMIDT: Do you think he should stop the recount? You know he said that they’re. ... He was protesting the election today. Moore.
TRUMP: Well, I. ... Look. ... Let him do whatever he wants to do. I was for Strange, and I brought Strange up 20 points. Just so you understand. When I endorsed him, he was in fifth place. He went way up. Almost 20 points. But he fell a little short. But I knew what I was doing. Because I thought that. ... If you look at my rhetoric, I said the problem with Roy Moore is that he will lose the election. I called it. But as the head of the party, I have a choice: Do I endorse him or not? I don’t know. Um. ...
SCHMIDT: Was it a mistake?
TRUMP: And by the way, when I endorsed him, he went up. It was a much closer race.
SCHMIDT: Was it a mistake to endorse him?
TRUMP: I feel that I have to endorse Republicans as the head of the party. So, I endorsed him. It became a much closer race because of my endorsement. People don’t say that. They say, Oh, Donald Trump lost. I didn’t lose, I brought him up a lot. He was not the candidate that I thought was going to win. If you look at my statements, you’ve seen them, I said, “Look, I’m for Luther Strange because I like him, but I’m also for Luther Strange because he’s going to win the election.” There wouldn’t have been an election. He would have won by 25 points.
SCHMIDT: He would have won big?
TRUMP: The problem with Roy Moore, and I said this, is that he’s going to lose the election. I hope you can straighten that out. Luther Strange was brought way up after my endorsement and he almost won. But. ... Almost won. ... He lost by 7 points, 7 or 8 points. And he was way behind. Because of two things, you know, what happened. ... [Inaudible.] ... But I never thought Roy was going to win the election, but I felt. ... I never thought he was going to win the election, but I felt. ... And I said that very clearly. ... And I wish you would cover that, because frankly, I said, if Luther doesn’t win, Roy is going to lose the election. I always felt Roy was going to lose the election. But I endorsed him because I feel it’s my obligation as the head of the Republican Party to endorse him. And you see how tight it was even to get a popular. ... In Republican circles, to get a very popular tax cut approved, actually reform. Two votes. Now we have one vote, all right?
OK, let’s get onto your final question, your other question. Had the Democrats come through. ...
SCHMIDT: Tell me about that, yeah.
TRUMP: Had they asked, “Let’s do a bipartisan,” Michael, I would have done bipartisan. I would absolutely have done bipartisan.
SCHMIDT: But they didn’t. ... They didn’t ...
TRUMP: And if I did bipartisan, I would have done something with SALT [the state and local tax deduction]. With that being said, you look back, Ronald Reagan wanted to take deductibility away from states. Ronald Reagan, years ago, and he couldn’t do it. Because New York had a very powerful group of people. Which they don’t have today. Today, they don’t have the same representatives. You know, in those days they had Lew Rudin and me. ... I fought like hell for that. They had a lot of very good guys. Lew Rudin was very effective. He worked hard for New York. And we had some very good senators. ... You know, we had a lot of people who fought very hard against, let’s call it SALT. Had they come to me and said, look, we’ll do this, this, this, we’ll do [inaudible]. I could have done something with SALT. Or made it less severe. But they were very ineffective. They were very, very ineffective. You understand what I mean. Had they come to me for a bipartisan tax bill, I would have gone to Mitch, and I would have gone to the other Republicans, and we could have worked something out bipartisan. And that could’ve been either a change to SALT or knockout of SALT.
But, just so you understand, Ronald Reagan wanted to take deductibility away and he was unable to do it. Ronald Reagan wanted to have ANWR approved 40 years ago and he was unable to do it. Think of that. And the individual mandate is the most unpopular thing in Obamacare, and I got rid of it. You know, we gained with the individual. ... You know the individual mandate, Michael, means you take money and you give it to the government for the privilege of not having to pay more money to have health insurance you don’t want. There are people who had very good health insurance that now are paying not to have health insurance. That’s what the individual mandate. ... They’re not going to have to pay anymore. So when people think that will be unpopular. ... It’s going to be very popular. It’s going to be very popular.
Now, in my opinion, they should come to me on infrastructure. They should come to me, which they have come to me, on DACA. We are working. ... We’re trying to something about it. And they should definitely come to me on health care. Because we can do bipartisan health care. We can do bipartisan infrastructure. And we can do bipartisan DACA.
SCHMIDT: What are you willing to do on infrastructure? How far are you willing to go? How much money?
TRUMP: I actually think we can get as many Democrat votes as we have Republican. Republicans want to see infrastructure. Michael, we have spent, as of about a month ago, $7 trillion in the Middle East. And the Middle East is worse than it was 17 years ago. ... [Inaudible.] $7 trillion. And if you want $12 to fix up a road or a highway, you can’t get it. I want to do a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, at least. We want to fix our roads, our highways, our bridges, which are in bad shape. And you know some of them are actually, they’re x-ed out, they have, you know, possibilities of collapse under bad circumstances. And in 10 years they will collapse. So, I want a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. I think it can be bipartisan. I believe we can do health care in a bipartisan way, because now we’ve essentially gutted and ended Obamacare.
SCHMIDT: But what’s the goal? What’s the goal?
TRUMP: Wait, wait, let me just tell you. ... Also, beyond the individual mandate, but also [inaudible] associations. You understand what the associations are. ...
TRUMP: So now I have associations, I have private insurance companies coming and will sell private health care plans to people through associations. That’s gonna be millions and millions of people. People have no idea how big that is. And by the way, and for that, we’ve ended across state lines. So we have competition. You know for that I’m allowed to [inaudible] state lines. So that’s all done.
Now I’ve ended the individual mandate. And the other thing I wish you’d tell people. So when I do this, and we’ve got health care, you know, McCain did his vote. ... But what we have. I had a hundred congressmen that said no and I was able to talk them into it. They’re great people.
Two things: No. 1, I have unbelievably great relationships with 97 percent of the Republican congressmen and senators. I love them and they love me. That’s No. 1. And No. 2, I know more about the big bills. ... [Inaudible.] ... Than any president that’s ever been in office. Whether it’s health care and taxes. Especially taxes. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have persuaded a hundred. ... You ask Mark Meadows [inaudible]. ... I couldn’t have persuaded a hundred congressmen to go along with the bill. The first bill, you know, that was ultimately, shockingly rejected.
I’ll tell you something [inaudible]. ... Put me on the defense, I was a great student and all this stuff. Oh, he doesn’t know the details, these are sick people.
So, the taxes. ... [Inaudible.] ... The tax cut will be, the tax bill, prediction, will be far bigger than anyone imagines. Expensing will be perhaps the greatest of all provisions. Where you can do something, you can buy something. ... Piece of equipment. ... You can do lots of different things, and you can write it off and expense it in one year. That will be one of the great stimuli in history. You watch. That’ll be one of the big. ... People don’t even talk about expensing, what’s the word “expensing.” [Inaudible.] One year expensing. Watch the money coming back into the country, it’ll be more money than people anticipate.
But Michael, I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest CPA. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have talked all these people into doing ultimately only to be rejected.
Now here’s the good news. We’ve created associations, millions of people are joining associations. Millions. That were formerly in Obamacare or didn’t have insurance. Or didn’t have health care. Millions of people. That’s gonna be a big bill, you watch. It could be as high as 50 percent of the people. You watch. So that’s a big thing. And the individual mandate. So now you have associations, and people don’t even talk about the associations. That could be half the people are going to be joining up. ... With private [inaudible]. So now you have associations and the individual mandate.
I believe that because of the individual mandate and the associations, the Democrats will and certainly should come to me and see if they can do a really great health care plan for the remaining people. [Inaudible.]
SCHMIDT: And you think you can do it?
TRUMP: Well, we’re perfectly set up to do it. See, it was hard for them to do it as long as the individual mandate existed. But now that the individual mandate is officially killed, people have no idea how big a deal that was. It’s the most unpopular part of Obamacare. But now, Obamacare is essentially ... . You know, you saw this ... . It’s basically dead over a period of time.
TRUMP: But the Democrats should come to a bipartisan bill. And we can fix it. We can fix it. We can make a great health care plan. Not Obamacare, which was a bad plan. We can make a great health care plan through bipartisanship. We can do a great infrastructure plan through bipartisanship. And we can do on immigration, and DACA in particular, we can do something that’s terrific through bipartisanship.
SCHMIDT: It sounds like you’re tacking to the center in a way you didn’t before.
TRUMP: No, I’m not being centered. I’m just being practical. No, I don’t think I’m changing. Look, I wouldn’t do a DACA plan without a wall. Because we need it. We see the drugs pouring into the country, we need the wall.
SCHMIDT: So you’re not moving. You’re saying I’m more likely to do deals, but I’m not moving.
TRUMP: I’m always moving. I’m moving in both directions. We have to get rid of chainlike immigration, we have to get rid of the chain. The chain is the last guy that killed. ... [Talking with guests.] ... The last guy that killed the eight people. ... [Inaudible.] ... So badly wounded people. ... Twenty-two people came in through chain migration. Chain migration and the lottery system. They have a lottery in these countries.
They take the worst people in the country, they put ‘em into the lottery, then they have a handful of bad, worse ones, and they put them out. “Oh, these are the people the United States. ...” ... We’re gonna get rid of the lottery, and by the way, the Democrats agree with me on that. On chain migration, they pretty much agree with me.
[Cross talk with guests.]
CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, the president and chief executive of Newsmax: Canada, U.K., Australia. ... All do best and brightest. ...
TRUMP: Yeah, they have a merit system, we’ll eventually go to a merit-based system. When we bring people in. ... That No. 1, don’t need our resources and No. 2, have great capabilities.
SCHMIDT: Do you think I’m wrong to think next year could be the year of you being a real deal maker, in a way you maybe weren’t in the past year?
TRUMP: I was. I make deals with the Republicans. I had nobody to make a deal with the Democrats. The Democrats could have made a much better tax deal for Democrats if they came to see us, but they didn’t come. They never thought I’d be able to get this over the line. And especially when McCain, when John McCain left and went to Arizona, they thought they had it made.
SCHMIDT: Explain your North Korea tweet to me today.
TRUMP: Which one?
SCHMIDT: You said about the oil, that China. ...
SCHMIDT: What’s going on there. Tell me about that.
TRUMP: Yeah, China. ... China’s been. ... I like very much President Xi. He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China. You know that. The presentations. ... One of the great two days of anybody’s life and memory having to do with China. He’s a friend of mine, he likes me, I like him, we have a great chemistry together. He’s [inaudible] of the United States. ...[Inaudible.] China’s hurting us very badly on trade, but I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war. OK?
[Cross talk with guests.]
SCHMIDT: Can you finish your thought on North Korea. What’s going on with China?
TRUMP: I’m disappointed. You know that they found oil going into. ...
SCHMIDT: But how recently?
TRUMP: It was very recently. In fact, I hate to say, it was reported this morning, and it was reported on Fox. Oil is going into North Korea. That wasn’t my deal!
SCHMIDT: What was the deal?
TRUMP: My deal was that, we’ve got to treat them rough. They’re a nuclear menace so we have to be very tough.
RUDDY: Mr. President, was that a picture from recent or was that months ago? I don’t know. ...
TRUMP: Oil is going into North Korea, I know. Oil is going into North Korea. So I’m not happy about it.
SCHMIDT: So what are you going to do?
TRUMP: We’ll see. That I can’t tell you, Michael. But we’ll see. I can tell you one thing: This is a problem that should have been handled for the last 25 years. This is a problem, North Korea. That should have been handled for 25, 30 years, not by me. This should have been handled long before me. Long before this guy has whatever he has.
SCHMIDT: Do you think we’ve been too soft on China on North Korea?
TRUMP: No, look, I like China, and I like him a lot. But, as you know, when I campaigned, I was very tough on China in terms of trade. They made — last year, we had a trade deficit with China of $350 billion, minimum. That doesn’t include the theft of intellectual property, OK, which is another $300 billion. So, China — and you know, somebody said, oh, currency manipulation. 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. I think I expressed that in probably [inaudible].
TRUMP, as aides walk by: And, by the way, it’s not a tweet. It’s social media, and it gets out in the world, and the reason I do well is that I can be treated unfairly and very dishonestly by CNN, and, you know, I have — what do I have now, John, 158 million, including Facebook, including Twitter, including Instagram, including every form, I have 158 million people. Reporting just this morning, they said 158 million. So if they do a story that’s false, I can do something — otherwise, Andy, otherwise you just sort of walk around saying what can I do? What, am I going to have a press conference every time somebody, every time Michael writes something wrong?
So, China on trade has ripped off this country more than any other element of the world in history has ripped off anything. But I can be different if they’re helping us with North Korea. If they don’t help us with North Korea, then I do what I’ve always said I want to do. China can help us much more, and they have to help us much more. And they have to help us much more. We have a nuclear menace out there, which is no good for China, and it’s not good for Russia. It’s no good for anybody. Does that make sense?
SCHMIDT: Yeah, yeah, it makes a lot of sense.
TRUMP: The only thing that supersedes trade to me — because I’m the big trade guy, I got elected to a certain extent on trade. You see, I’m renegotiating NAFTA, or I’ll terminate it. If I don’t make the right deal, I’ll terminate NAFTA in two seconds. But we’re doing pretty good. You know, it’s easier to renegotiate it if we make it a fair deal because NAFTA was a terrible deal for us. We lost $71 billion a year with Mexico, can you believe it? $17 billion with Canada — Canada says we broke even. But they don’t include lumber and they don’t include oil. Oh, that’s not. ... [Inaudible,] ... My friend Justin he says, “No, no, we break even.” I said, “Yeah, but you’re not including oil, and you’re not including lumber.” When you do, you lose $17 billion, and with the other one, we’re losing $71 billion. So the only thing that supersedes trade to me is war. If we can solve the North Korea problem. China cannot. ...
SCHMIDT: You still think there’s a diplomatic solution?
TRUMP: China has a tremendous power over North Korea. Far greater than anyone knows.
SCHMIDT: Why haven’t they stood up?
TRUMP: I hope they do, but as of this moment, they haven’t. They could be much stronger.
SCHMIDT: But why not?
TRUMP: China can solve the North Korea problem, and they’re helping us, and they’re even helping us a lot, but they’re not helping us enough.
TRUMP: We’re going to win another four years for a lot of reasons, most importantly because our country is starting to do well again and we’re being respected again. But 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. 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.