President of the United States, Donald Trump (and definitely NOT President Steve Bannon), staged one of the most obvious planted interviews you will ever see with the “failing New York Times.” It began with his new narrative on the “biggest story,” the meat of it consisted of his new legislative initiative (infrastructure!), and ended with a cliffhanger. Firstly, just to get a feeling for the room: in addition to Trump’s chief economic adviser, an assistant to the president (formerly president of Goldman Sachs), Shifty Spice-r and Hope Hicks (longtime advisor), these two schlubs stumbled in.
Before diving in to the highlights of the failing transcript, keep these talking points from Trump's recent speech in mind.
There's a new line out of the White House and it rhymes with Saskatchewan. Trump wants everyone to start talking about his electoral college victory, Susan Rice acting within her legal rights to unmask Trump associates talking to Russians under surveillance, and a few other things that probably didn't happen. And he wants us to stop talking about the failure of the AHCA, the drip drip drip of the Russia investigation, his historically low approval ratings, or the fact that he is really regretting his change of plans from touring the country as shadow president to actual POTUS.
HABERMAN: You talk to Democrats privately that will admit —
TRUMP: I do.
HABERMAN: But do they admit to you that they don't actually have a huge objection to Gorsuch, they think that he's probably —
TRUMP: They do. They admit that.
Interrupting a woman to push the conversation in his direction? We've already hit Peak Trump and this shitshow hasn't even begun.
HABERMAN: Right. In private.
TRUMP: Elijah Cummings [a Democratic representative from Maryland] was in my office and he said, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.”
There's a pretty good chance that Trump mixed up Ben Carson and Elijah Cummings.
TRUMP: And then he went out and I watched him on television yesterday and I said, “Was that the same man?”
TRUMP: But I said, and I liked him, but I said that was really nice. He said, in a group of people, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.” And then I watched him on television and I said, “Is that the same man that said that to me?”
I'm just gonna leave this here. It's his pinned tweet.
TRUMP: Well, I think that some of it had to do with the election. They thought they were going to win. You know, winning the Electoral College is, for a Republican, is close to impossible and I won it quite easily. And I think they are still recovering from that, but they are recovering now. I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story. I think it's a massive, massive story. All over the world, I mean other than The New York Times.
HABERMAN: We've written about it twice.
HABERMAN: We've written about it twice.
TRUMP: Yeah, it's a bigger story than you know. I think —
HABERMAN: You mean there's more information that we're not aware of?
TRUMP: I think that it's going to be the biggest story.
I think we've found the tenor of the Trump White House message.
I also love how he said “biggest” story…almost as if he was comparing it to another one currently dominating the news?
TRUMP: I think it's one of the biggest stories. The Russia story is a total hoax. There has been absolutely nothing coming out of that. But what, you know, what various things led into it was the story that we're talking about, the Susan Rice. What's happened is terrible. I've never seen people so indignant, including many Democrats who are friends of mine. I've never seen them acting this way. Because that's really an affront on them, you know, they are talking about civil liberties. It's such an affront, what took place.
Time for some shameless self-promotion. Wondering why he may have gone out of his way to bring up the “total hoax” that is the Russia story?
TRUMP: I think from the previous administration.
THRUSH: How far up do you think this goes? Chief of staff?
TRUMP: I don’t want to say, but —
TRUMP: I don’t want to say, but you know who. You know what was going on. You probably know better than anybody. I mean, I frankly think The Times is missing a big thing by not writing it because you’re missing out on the biggest story there is.
The only way Trump could be more obvious in his attempt to push the narrative in this direction is if he turned to the camera and said “be vewwy vewwy qwiet, I’m hunting wabbits.”
TRUMP: I think he’s a person I know well. He’s a good person. I think he may, you know, I think he shouldn’t have settled, personally, I think he shouldn’t have settled.
HABERMAN: How come?
TRUMP: Because you — should have taken it all the way. No, I know Bill. Bill’s a good person.
TRUMP: I don’t think Bill would do anything wrong.
Resident pussy grabber endorses man hemorrhaging endorsements due to sexual harassment scandal. Toss in a Kardashian and it’s an American media bingo.
TRUMP: No, you have a lot of information. No, you have so much information.
HABERMAN: If you would have given it to us last week, we would have written it. Would you declassify some of the information so that —
TRUMP: I don’t want to talk about that.
HABERMAN: No? O.K.
TRUMP: No. I just don’t want to talk about that. It’s such an important story for our country, for the world. What took place.
Got that Trump voters? The President of the United States doesn’t want to talk about such an important story for our country.
HABERMAN: Why not talk about it then? With all due respect.
TRUMP: At the right time, I will be.
Just like how he’s going to get Mexico to pay for the wall at the right time, right?
THRUSH: One last thing on that. Have you actually seen intelligence that leads you to believe that people other than Susan Rice are involved.
TRUMP: I don’t want to comment on anything about — other than to say I think it’s a — I think it’s truly one of the big stories of our time.
Nothing to see here folks, and definitely nothing to see in Russia.
TRUMP: We want to do a great infrastructure plan, and on that side I will say that we’re going to have, I believe, tremendous Democrat support. We are also going to have some good Republican support, and I think it’s going to be one of the very bipartisan bills and it’s going to happen. I may put it in with health care.
TRUMP: Yeah. I may put it in with something else because it’s a very popular thing. We’ve spent $6 trillion in the Middle East, as of two months ago. Uh, $6 trillion. And yet we can’t fix our own roads and our own highways. And our bridges, which are, in many cases, in very bad shape. And we’re going to have a very big infrastructure plan. And bill. And it’s going to come soon. And I think we’ll have support from Democrats and Republicans.
After being asked to provide any level of detail about “one of the very bipartisan bills,” Trump responded:
TRUMP: Well, we’re working — you know when people said, when you guys, because you know we have a very solid administration. We have some very, very good people. This man was the president of Goldman Sachs. I mean, he was, like, the president of Goldman Sachs.
Was he “like, the president of Goldman Sachs” in the same way Trump is “like, a smart person?”
HABERMAN: I’m very familiar with his work.
TRUMP: And believe me, they wanted him. But he wanted to do something more important. As he said, as big as Goldman Sachs are, it was —
HABERMAN: This is bigger.
Haberman’s just playing Trump mad libs at this point.
TRUMP: — and is. The numbers here are staggering. He did the biggest deals in the world. They were, like, tiny deals. They were like peanut deals. But, but we just have a great group of people.
I love the stealth honesty in statements like this. It’s clear that he’s genuinely shocked at how gigantic the federal government of the United States is.
We’ve got a Bushism folks! It doesn’t hold up to the greats, but it still qualifies! (emphasis added)
TRUMP: It is so bad. It’s so out of whack. They had all of these different companies hired. Tremendous amounts of money was spent.
TRUMP: Nothing is accurate now because we haven’t made a final determination. We haven’t made a determination as to public/private. There are some things that work very nicely public/private. There are some things that don’t. The federal government, we’re doing very well you saw, a lot of good numbers coming out. You saw our imports. You saw what happened with China. And various other people that this country has been dealing with over the years. You saw the numbers come out today, they’re very promising. Lot of good numbers are coming out. We are borrowing very inexpensively. When you can borrow so inexpensively, you don’t have to do the public/private thing. Because public/private can be very expensive. When you go equity, when you give equity to people who own your highways essentially for a 30-year period, who own your tollbooths for a period of time — come on in, Mike! You know Mike and Reince?
TRUMP: Uh, we’re working on health care. Can I just say, so when you called the health care bill, you know, that was just a negotiation. You didn’t hear me say it’s over. That was a negotiation. You understand? A continuing negotiation. It may go on for a long time or it may go on until this afternoon. I don’t know. It’s a continuing negotiation.
After asking about whether Democrats will support Trump’s health care plan that he just brought up by busting the health care Kool-Aid guys through the wall, Trump interrupted:
TRUMP: No, because they are desperate for infrastructure. That’s the thing that they want second to — that would be their second number — that would be their second request.
HABERMAN: What do you think their first is?
TRUMP: I know it, but I can’t tell you it.
The first thing that the Democrats want is to throw your ass in jail Donald.
REED CORDISH: Per the president’s instructions, the infrastructure package is going to fix the broken permit system, the broken process.
CORDISH: We can give you the details of it, but that’s such a
big part of the story. That’s going to create benefit far beyond the federal dollars that we’re talking about. That’s what’s really going on — unleash the true revival of the infrastructure.
“We can give you the details of it, but that’s such a big part of the story” will also be the name of the documentary made about the unhinged #Russiagate tweetstormers.
Referring to the recent atrocity via chemical weapons in Syria:
THRUSH: What do you think it says about the role of Russia in Syria?
TRUMP: Well, I think it’s a very sad day for Russia because they’re aligned, and in this case, all information points to Syria that they did this. Why they did this, who knows? That’s a level — first of all, they weren’t supposed to have this. Obama said, “It’s all cleared away.” Well, that’s another thing he didn’t do. This was a big moment, a big moment in the Middle East was when Obama drew the red line in the sand, and it was immediately violated, and did nothing. That was a big moment in the Middle East. I know you’re not going to report it, but — that was a big, bad moment in the Middle East.
THRUSH: On the infrastructure stuff, a couple of quick things. Davis-Bacon [a law that regulates wages on federally funded projects]. Democrats have said that will be a poison pill. Are you going to touch Davis-Bacon? What are you going to do?
TRUMP: We’re going to make an announcement in two weeks —
TRUMP: — on Davis-Bacon.
HABERMAN: O.K. Can you give us a hint on where you are?
I wrote everything except the conclusion last night, and I wake up to find out that Devin Nunes has recused himself from the Russia investigation. So much for Trump’s feeble attempt to pivot the message away from the drip drip drip of the Russia story, which is picking up pace by the week. John Oliver dubbing this saga “Stupid Watergate” is perfect, as this interview with The Times is emblematic of the larger incompetence enveloping this entire administration.
Jacob Weindling is Paste’s business and media editor, as well as a staff writer for politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.