President Trump's contrarian Q&A session with reporters, annotated

While vacationing at his Bedminster, N.J., estate, President Trump on Aug. 10 answered questions from reporters about numerous topics including Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The 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 where the press zigged, he zagged.

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 harsh on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), despite suggestions that picking that fight would hurt his agenda. 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 two weeks ago. He also thanked Vladimir Putin for expelling U.S. staff from Russia, suggesting the U.S. needed to cut some government jobs. And finally, he declared the opioid crisis to be a national emergency.

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.

PART 1

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.

Any questions?

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 Halley 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.

PART 2

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?

TRUMP: No.

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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More drama in Trumpland: Gorka publicly shuns Tillerson's effort to scale back North Korea red line


The deputy assistant to President Trump, Sebastian Gorka, appears at the Conservative Political Action Conference. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

For those worried that President Trump might get into nuclear war with North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson provided some solace Wednesday. “Americans should sleep well at night,” Tillerson said, tempering Trump’s promise to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea if it continued to threaten the U.S. Tillerson emphasized that no conflict was imminent.

But now another Trump administration voice is suggesting that we shouldn’t pay Tillerson much mind.

Sebastian Gorka appeared on BBC radio Thursday and delivered one of the most aggressive takes to date on what Trump might do — even allowing that a mere threat from North Korea could be construed as an act of war, as Trump seemed to do earlier this week. In doing so, Gorka downplayed Tillerson’s role in all of this.

“You should listen to the president; the idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical,” Gorka said in a recording shared with The Washington Post. “It is the job of Secretary Mattis, the secretary of defense, to talk about the military options, and he has done so unequivocally. He said, ‘Woe betide anyone who militarily challenges the United States,’ and that is his portfolio. That is his mandate. Secretary Tillerson is the chief diplomat of the United States, and it is his portfolio to handle those issues.”

The suggestion seems to be that Tillerson was out of his element when he provided those assurances Wednesday — that Tillerson wouldn’t even know how imminent such a conflict might be because it’s not in his purview.

And that’s a striking message from another member of the White House team. For a president who has publicly undermined his own attorney general and whose communications director railed against his two top White House aides in an interview two weeks ago, it looks like more backbiting and internal discord.

Trump on Tuesday seemed to be setting the red line for North Korea at any kind of threat — which Pyongyang, of course, makes often and would do again, soon after Trump’s comments, by threatening Guam. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said. “They will be met with the fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Tillerson seemed to scale back that red line Wednesday. But Gorka’s comments provide yet more conflicting information from the White House about precisely where that red line lies. Gorka seems to be saying it’s right back to where Trump suggested it was — or at least that Trump reserved the right to consider mere threats to be acts of war.

The interviewer pressed him on that point:

Q: But are you telling me though, Mr. Gorka, that if there is an action by North Korea that is felt by the United States to be threatening, then that is war? Is that the understanding that the North Koreans should have?

GORKA: If you threaten a nation, then what should you expect — a stiffly worded letter that would be sent by courier? Is that what the U.K. would do if a nation threatened a nuclear-tipped missile launched against any of the United Kingdom’s territories?

That’s very different from what Tillerson said.

As I wrote Wednesday morning, we may be witnessing a little “Good Cop, Bad Cop” here, with the administration providing different signals to keep North Korea guessing. It’s the so-called “Madman theory” that says you want your enemies to think you’re capable of anything.

But this also seems to fit into a pattern of the White House not really having its story straight and figuring things out on the fly — which would be a perilous strategy given the stakes of the North Korea situation. And it also fits into a long-running pattern of White House officials undermining one another, both privately and publicly. Having members of your staff undercut your own secretary of state doesn’t seem like a great way to do business.

(h/t Adam Taylor)

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The Mooch as Monica Lewinsky? Scaramucci's saga keeps getting stranger.

Leaks, threats and insults. And it lasted less than two weeks. Here’s a look back at the very short tenure of the White House’s latest communications director, Anthony Scaramucci. (Victoria Walker,Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

Anthony Scaramucci keeps complaining about the interview that cost him his job as White House communications director. And in doing so, he keeps betraying how amateur it was that the White House ever hired him.

When the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza first reported on Scaramucci’s vulgar comments about his then-White House colleagues two weeks ago, Scaramucci said he would tone down the language. He then apparently decided to get a little more combative, suggesting the interview wasn’t meant to be published and that a fellow Italian American like Lizza should have known he was just B.S.-ing.

And now that Lizza published additional comments from the interview Wednesday, Scaramucci is trying a new tack: Accusing Lizza of recording him without his knowledge by comparing him to a figure from the Bill Clinton sex scandal, Linda Tripp.

Scaramucci first compared Lizza to Tripp in a somewhat cryptic tweet Wednesday night.

Tripp, of course, was the one who secretly recorded Monica Lewinsky’s phone calls. She was indicted on a charge of it, though the case was later dropped. Scaramucci later clarified that he was indeed accusing Lizza of a similar crime. “He absolutely taped the call without my permission. #lowlife,” Scaramucci tweeted.

There’s one big problem with this complaint: There doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with Lizza recording the call.

The District of Columbia has what’s known as “one party consent,” which means only one person on a phone call must know that it’s being recorded. Tripp got in trouble because she was in Maryland, which is one of relatively few states where you must have all parties consent.

What that means: As long as you’re talking to someone else in D.C. or another one party consent state, you don’t need to ask permission to record. It’s the same, by the way, in Scaramucci’s home state of New York. As Lizza had reported, though, Scaramucci was in D.C. having dinner at the White House that night. And Lizza confirms to me that he himself was in D.C., as well. So there was no reason to ask permission to record the call.


Then-White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci talks to the media outside the White House. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Journalists, of course, understand states have different laws about these types of things. When you call a certain state, you know you must ask for consent to record your conversation; in other states, there’s no need. It’s why prank-call shows are often based in one party consent states, calling other one party consent states. I still have a bookmarked Web page that tells me which states are which.

What’s again remarkable about Scaramucci’s complaints is that he, the then-head of communications for the White House, was apparently unfamiliar with all of this. Not only did he not seem to grasp the fact that Lizza would publish his juicy comments unless they went off the record or on background (there is no indication Scaramucci asked his comments to Lizza to not be published, and indeed he specified that other parts of the conversation were off the record), but now he’s complaining about Lizza surreptitiously doing something that he was allowed to do.

Oh, and by the way, his Linda Tripp metaphor? As plenty of folks pointed out on Twitter on Wednesday night, in that metaphor Scaramucci would be Monica Lewinsky.

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The top 10 most over-the-top pieces of Trump praise from his own aides


Then-Republican nominee Donald Trump gives thumbs up to the crowd in August 2016 in Phoenix. (Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

To hear his aides tell it, President Trump is the great politician, communicator, competitor and dealmaker either in modern America or in history, period — a guy who changes the world for the better whenever he sets foot in a foreign country.

That may sound hyperbolic, but those who work for Trump have said each and every one of these things and more. In the past week alone, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski called Trump the greatest communicator in the history of politics. Not to be outdone, senior White House adviser Stephen Miller said Tuesday that Trump was the “best orator” and the most gifted politician in generations.

The Post’s Jenna Johnson ably catalogued some of the Trump team’s over-the-top praise for their boss in May. Given a new batch since then, I figured it was high time to pull it all together in one list.

And because Trump seems to crave this kind of praise, I’ve done him a favor and ranked each bit of praise by effusiveness and obsequiousness. We’ll start with the most toned-down quote (sad!) and work our way to the ultimate bit of bootlicking.

10. Vice President Pence: “It is just the greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to the president who’s keeping his word to the American people and assembling a team that’s bringing real change, real prosperity, real strength back to our nation.”

This was a quote from that awkward meeting of Trump’s Cabinet officials, in which they took turns praising Trump and telling him how much of an honor it was to serve him. Pence’s quote suggests it is his life’s greatest honor to serve Trump, but he could also simply mean the presidency in general.

9. Reince Priebus: “On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people. And we’re continuing to work very hard every day to accomplish those goals.”

See above.

8. Sean Spicer: “The president’s address to the leaders of more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations was a historic turning point that people will be talking about for many years to come. He did exactly as he promised in his inaugural address: united the civilized world in the fight against terrorism and extremism.”

The former White House press secretary tended to trip over his words and probably didn’t mean it, but here he says Trump “united the civilized world” with a single speech. That’s quite a feat!

7. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn: “The president was able to make some of the most amazing deals that have really been made by an administration ever. I have to tell you personally: I’ve been in business for 30 years, I’ve been doing this my entire life — I’ve never seen anything come together like this.”

This is higher praise than it seems, given that Cohn was a bigshot at Goldman Sachs. The phrase “that have really been made by any administration ever” really makes this one. It’s as if Trump is saying it himself, because it suggests a degree of research that Cohn very likely never did.

6. Kellyanne Conway: “He’s the ultimate dealmaker. He’s the most brilliant communicator and natural connector with people I’ve ever seen.”

The “I’ve ever seen” caveat seems needlessly cautious when it comes to praising Trump. Why not just go for it?

5. Sebastian Gorka: “The president, in just 10 days, has changed the geopolitical reality wherever he went.”

This seems like really big praise. But “changed the geopolitical reality” isn’t an inherently positive thing. Dr./Mr. Gorka could have done better here.

4. Miller: “President Trump is the most gifted politician of our time. He’s the best orator to hold that office in generations.”

This is placing Trump ahead of Ronald Reagan and arguably John F. Kennedy on both political gifts and oratory, which is a remarkable claim. Like Conway, though, Miller succumbs to an unfortunate limiting of the scope of his praise, saying it applies only to modern times.

3. Anthony Scaramucci: “I think he’s got some of the best political instincts in the world, perhaps in history. … He’s the most competitive person I’ve ever met, okay? I’ve seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire. I’ve seen him at Madison Square Garden with a top coat on, he’s standing in the key and he’s hitting foul shots and swishing them. He sinks 3-foot putts.” (Scaramucci apparently meant to say “30-foot putts,” and the White House pretended that he had.)

This worked its way up the list as I looked at it. The sheer volume of praise here and the varied nature of it earns lots of points. You can see Trump thinking of himself tossing a football through a tire and getting a little twinkle in his eye. The “best political instincts” line is the takeaway, and Scaramucci really goes for it when he says “perhaps in history.” But again, it is qualified by “some of the” and “perhaps.”

2. Lewandowski: “Anybody who thinks they are gonna change the president is not going to, because he is the greatest communicator we have ever seen as an elected official; there is no question about it.”

Corey obliterates just about all of the qualifiers and caveats here, but why not just say he’s the “greatest communicator we have ever seen,” full stop,” and leave off the “as an elected official”? Apparently he didn’t want to compare Trump to Tony Robbins.

1. Hope Hicks: “President Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy, which is infectious to those around him. He has an unparalleled ability to communicate with people. … He is brilliant with a great sense of humor.”

This was a written statement in response to reports of Trump’s ill treatment of his staff, and it’s more over-the-top than anything else here. It also feel strangely third-grade toward the end.

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Trump's bizarre brag about the nuclear arsenal doesn't square with reality


President Trump speaks about North Korea during an opioid-related briefing on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

President Trump tweeted a warning to North Korea on Wednesday morning. Pointing to his executive order to “renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal,” he said that arsenal is “now stronger and more powerful than ever before.”

The contention in these tweets is not based in reality.

Trump, yet again, appears to be overinflating his accomplishments as president. And what’s more, judging by these tweets, he doesn’t seem to even understand his own nuclear arsenal or its current status.

Experts on these things make clear:

  1. A meaningful advance in less than seven months of the Trump administration is fantasy — there’s just no way it’s much different than it was when Trump took over.
  2. Trump doesn’t appear to have done anything more than order a review of the nuclear arsenal.
  3. Even if we set aside the above, the arsenal simply isn’t “stronger and more powerful than ever before.”

“It’s absurd; this is like — you have to be the biggest hayseed in America to believe this,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “There’s no point at which this statement touches reality.”

Others were more measured, but were clearly skeptical of Trump’s contention.

“Any decision that the president were to take now, or that he took in January, would take years to implement,” Jon Wolfsthal, a former Obama administration official at the National Security Council, told The Post’s Philip Rucker and John Wagner. “I’m very skeptical of the idea that Trump believes that he has modernized or adjusted our arsenal because there have been no visible changes to it.”

In response to questions from reporters, the White House pointed to Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order calling for a “Nuclear Posture Review.” But as Lewis told me, this is nothing more than a study that doesn’t appear to have been completed or acted upon in any manner. The Pentagon has said it will be completed by the end of the year. It’s also a study that the last four presidents have also undertaken, meaning it’s hardly an unusual step or something for Trump to gloat about.”

Lewis noted that these reviews have actually generally slowed progress by delaying decision-making. And he said they are so fraught and often unhelpful that both the Obama and the George W. Bush administrations basically had to be forced into conducting them.

Just as importantly, there is also no public indication that the nuclear arsenal is suddenly more advanced or stronger than it was decades ago. And even if it were, Lewis notes, it’s because of a “very aggressive” $1 trillion modernization plan that was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

“The numbers are coming down, and the modernization programs are just getting underway,” Lewis said. “They haven’t really had much of an effect.”

Here’s a look at how the U.S. nuclear stockpile has evolved over time, from the Arms Control Association.

Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, tweeted back at Trump on Wednesday morning.

Trump appears to have been careful with his wording. He doesn’t technically attach his own decision to the arsenal allegedly being stronger than ever; he instead places his signing of the order next to that alleged fact.

But neither the insinuation nor the underlying contention about the nuclear program suggest he understands what he’s talking about.

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