On Friday evening, we brought you a clip from Donald Trump’s interview with CBS’s “Face The Nation”.
In it, Trump castigates Nancy Pelosi, accusing her of not caring about human trafficking and suggesting that “people are dying” because of her.
To be clear, Trump is pretty excited about this interview. Indeed, he’s plugging it as a kind of special bonus for America on Super Bowl Sunday.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2019
As ever, it’s not clear that “Enjoy!” is the proper way for a sitting president to promote an interview. Frank discussions with the most powerful man in the world about domestic policy and geopolitics aren’t really supposed to be “entertainment”, per se, but Trump is a reality TV show host first and a president second (or third, or fourth, or tenth, depending on what you imagine his priorities list looks like).
In any event, the full transcript of this spectacle is out which is great because it saves us the time of having to document this farce in real time as it airs.
Trump’s answers to Margaret Brennan’s questions are all kinds of incoherent. He stammers, equivocates and speaks in broken English and sentence fragments as is customary.
Asked by Brennan if he’s willing to take another shutdown off the table, Trump came up with this:
Well, I don’t- I don’t take anything off the table. I don’t like to take things off the table. It’s that alternative. It’s national emergency, it’s other things and you know there have been plenty national emergencies called. And this really is an invasion of our country by human traffickers. These are people that are horrible people bringing in women mostly, but bringing in women and children into our country. Human trafficking.
That’s – umm – not really an answer. It’s not really even language. It’s just a word salad topped with fearmonger vinaigrette.
Next, Brennan pressed Trump on his rebuke of Dan Coats and Gina Haspel. When asked, point blank, “What specifically was wrong about what they said?”, Trump offered this:
I think- let me just say it wasn’t so much a report. It was the questions and answers as the report was submitted and they were asked questions and answers. We’ve done an incredible job with Syria. When I took over Syria it was infested with ISIS. It was all over the place. And now you have very little ISIS and you have the caliphate almost knocked out. We will be announcing in the not too distant future 100 percent of the caliphate which is the area- the land- the area- 100.
You can write your own jokes there, but we would note that while people can indeed be “asked questions”, “answers” are not “asked” – rather, “answers” are responses to “questions”, something Trump clearly doesn’t understand as evidenced by this interview in which is “asked” a lot of “questions” but manages to deliver almost nothing in the way of “answers.”
Pressed on whether he can “trust the Taliban” to honor any peace treaty that would allow for the pullout of US troops in Afghanistan, Trump again indicated that he doesn’t understand the connection between the country and 9/11. Here’s part of the exchange:
MARGARET BRENNAN: Can you trust the Taliban? Can you actually broker a deal?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Look, whether we should have been there in the first place, that’s first question. Second question–
MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s where 9/11 was launched from.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: –we’ve been there for 19 years, almost, we are fighting very well. We’re fighting harder than ever before. And I think that they will- I think they’re tired and, I think everybody’s tired. We got to get out of these endless wars and bring our folks back home. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to be watching with intelligence. We’re going to be watching, and watching closely. North Korea–
I’m not sure “we’re going to be watching with intelligence – North Korea” makes any sense as a response, if the question is “Can you trust the Taliban?”
And it got better. Asked what the US would do if it became apparent that ISIS and Al-Qaeda were regrouping, Trump emphasized that a rapid re-deployment was possible and he did so in the silliest, most childlike manner imaginable. To wit:
And you know what we’ll do? We’ll come back if we have to. We have very fast airplanes, we have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly, and I’m not leaving.
He went on to Trump-‘splain how the remaining US presence in Iraq could serve as a kind of jumping-off point for any future strikes against militants. He also reiterated that “We have to protect Israel – we have to protect other things that we have.”
That’s a reference to Al-Tanf (presumably) and while I’m sure Israel appreciates the shout out, it’s not clear whether they like to think of themselves as something Trump “has”.
Trump elaborated a bit further, telling Brennan the following about how he intends to deal with “nests”:
Yes. And I’ll leave intelligence [in Afghanistan]. Real intelligence, by the way. I’ll leave intelligence there and if I see nests forming, I’ll do something about it.
Next, Trump stumbled into what certainly sounds like a pretty monumental announcement on how the US is planning to approach Iran going forward.
As you’re hopefully aware, Iraqi politics is heavily influenced by the IRGC and the US has had a complex, fraught relationship with Shia militias loyal to the Quds going all the way back to the invasion. Long story short, those militias were key to driving ISIS out of Iraq and if you know anything about the region, you know that when it comes to combatting the spread of Sunni extremism, there is no more effective force than Shia militias backed by the Quds. Of course Iran’s influence on Iraqi politics is cause for concern at the State Department and cooperation with the militias has always been a “strange bedfellows” type of deal.
Trump doesn’t have the faintest clue about any of that, and Brennan cornered him on the rather stark juxtaposition between his long-standing contention that Iraq was a historic foreign policy blunder and his critique of Obama’s telegraphed pullout. Here’s what he said:
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you- but you also campaigned saying that, you know, President Obama made a big mistake by telegraphing his military moves. You’re telegraphing your retreat.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I’m not telegraphing anything. No, no, no. There’s a difference. When President Obama pulled out of Iraq in theory we had Iraq. In other words, we had Iraq. We never had Syria…So when he did what he did in Iraq, which was a mistake. Being in Iraq was a mistake. Okay. Being in Iraq- it was a big mistake to go- one of the greatest mistakes going into the Middle East that our country has ever made. One of the greatest mistakes that we’ve ever made–
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you want to keep troops there now?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: –but when it was chosen– well, we spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it. And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Whoa, that’s news. You’re keeping troops in Iraq because you want to be able to strike in Iran?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, because I want to be able to watch Iran. All I want to do is be able to watch. We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It’s perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up.
Oops. It’s not clear whether that’s just Trump rambling off the top of his head or whether he accidentally leaked a part of the Pentagon’s plans, but it obviously raises questions, not the least of which is whether it’s a good idea to let him give long interviews to major news outlets on foreign policy.
In any event, Brennan also asked Trump about whether America should be concerned that nobody seems to want to fill key positions in the administration permanently. To that, he suggested it’s far easier to be an autocrat when those positions aren’t filled on a permanent basis (he didn’t actually put it that way, but it certainly came across as such):
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So we have a great cabinet. I have great people. I think now we have a really great cabinet. I think Bill Barr will be a fantastic attorney general, and I think that we have- Mike Pompeo’s been doing a fantastic job. We have–
MARGARET BRENNAN: He’s not leaving?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, I don’t- I mean he tells me he wouldn’t want to leave. I think that was–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Because McConnell was talking to him–
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That was fake news.
MARGARET BRENNAN: –about running for the Senate. He said McConnell had spoken to him about running for the Senate.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, he may have spoken to him, but I think he loves being secretary of state. He’s doing a fantastic job. And I asked him the question the other day, he says he’s absolutely not leaving. I don’t think he’d do that. And he doesn’t want to be lame duck. And he’s doing a fantastic job as our secretary of state. Great energy and great- a great, smart gentleman.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Cause you have an acting AG until you get Barr confirmed–
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: An acting defense secretary. An acting chief of staff. An acting interior secretary.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP. It’s OK. It’s easier to make moves when they’re acting.
Finally, Brennan pressed Trump on the special counsel probe and Roger Stone and whether William Barr would make Mueller’s final report public. Predictably, Trump sounded guilty. First, he tried to blame “bloggers” (?). To wit:
MARGARET BRENNAN: But when it comes to the investigation that the special counsel’s conducting- I mean 34 people have been charged here. Seven guilty pleas —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Excuse me. Ok, you ready? Ok, you ready? Of the 34 people, many of them were bloggers from Moscow or they were people that had nothing to do with me, had nothing to do with what they’re talking about or there were people that got caught telling a fib or telling a lie. I think it’s a terrible thing that’s happened to this country because this investigation is a witch hunt. It’s a terrible witch hunt and it’s a disgrace–
And here’s Trump trying to explain the Roger Stone situation:
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: First of all, Roger Stone didn’t work on the campaign, except way way at the beginning long before we’re talking about. Roger is somebody that I’ve always liked, but a lot of people like Roger some people probably don’t like Roger, but Roger Stone’s somebody I’ve always liked. I mean Roger’s a character but Roger was not- I don’t know if you know this or not- Roger wasn’t on my campaign except way at the beginning–
Got that? No? Me neither.
Trump also revealed that Nicolás Maduro asked for a meeting some time ago (who knows if that’s true) and he weighed in on North Korea a bit more.
But in the interest of driving home just how flustered Trump gets when it comes to answering questions about Mueller, we’ll leave you with the following desperate exchange and let you decide for yourself whether this is a man that really believes he’s innocent:
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Even the Mueller report said it had nothing to do with the campaign. When you look at some of the people and the events it had nothing to do–
MARGARET BRENNAN: You wouldn’t have a problem–
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Excuse me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: –if it became public?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Excuse me. That’s up to the attorney general. I don’t know. It depends. I have no idea what it’s going to say.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So far this thing’s been a total witch hunt. And it doesn’t implicate me in any way. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no nothing. Doesn’t implicate me in any way but I think it’s a disgrace.