President Donald Trump sat down for a wide-ranging interview with CBS set to air ahead of the Super Bowl on Sunday, and there’s a lot to unpack from the exchange.
Trump, who opted against giving a pregame interview last year, made several eyebrow-raising remarks during his interview with host Margaret Brennan, touching on topics including his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and whether he would let his 12-year-old son play football.
Here are some of Trump’s most noteworthy comments:
On another government shutdown: We’ll ‘see what happens’
Trump refused to say he wouldn’t allow another partial government shutdown if Congress doesn’t agree to carve out $5.7 billion in a spending bill to fund his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We’re going to have to see what happens on Feb. 15th,” the president said, the date when temporary funding for various agencies expires. “I don’t take anything off the table. I don’t like to take things off the table.”
After a 35-day partial shutdown ― the longest such closure in U.S. history ― Trump agreed on Jan. 25 to reopen the government for three weeks while Congress negotiated border security. He has threatened to shut down the government again or declare a national emergency to secure funds for his border wall if the talks fail. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have slammed Trump’s threat to declare a national emergency to achieve his wall.
“You know there have been plenty of national emergencies called,” Trump told CBS. “And this really is an invasion of our country by human traffickers. ... The only way you have a strong border is you need a physical barrier. You need a wall. And anybody that says you don’t, they’re just playing games.”
Pelosi is ‘very bad for our country’
Trump bashed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over her refusal to cave to his demand for border wall money, despite his repeated vows that Mexico would pay to build it.
Asked what he learned about negotiating with her, Trump told CBS that she was “very rigid.”
“I think she is very bad for our country,” he said. “She knows that you need a barrier. She knows that we need border security. She wanted to win a political point.”
Brennan reminded Trump that Pelosi had offered $1 billion toward border security. He responded, without citing evidence, that Pelosi’s stance on the wall was costing the country billions of dollars and blamed “people like” her for “people dying all over the country.”
“She’s doing a terrible disservice to our country,” he said. “And on the 15th, we have now set the table beautifully because everybody knows what’s going on because of the shutdown. People that didn’t have any idea ― they didn’t have a clue as to what was happening. They now know exactly what’s happening. ”
Don’t ‘have to agree’ with intelligence officials on global threats
Trump on Wednesday undermined his intelligence officials once again, tweeting that they are “extremely passive and naive” and suggesting they “go back to school.”
His Twitter attack followed the release of intelligence agencies’ annual report on worldwide security threats, which determined the so-called Islamic State had not yet been totally defeated in Syria and found no evidence that Iran was close to producing a nuclear weapon. Trump has repeatedly claimed otherwise.
Asked if he agreed with the report’s findings on Iran, Trump said no.
“I disagree with them,” the president told CBS. “I have intel people, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree. ... I want them to have their own opinion and I want them to give me their opinion. But, when I look at Iran, I look at Iran as a nation that has caused tremendous problems.”
He continued, “So when my intelligence people tell me how wonderful Iran is ― if you don’t mind, I’m going to just go by my own counsel.”
We have ‘very fast airplanes’ we can use if we see a resurgence of ISIS in the Middle East
Brennan grilled Trump about concerns from national security experts and lawmakers who warn the president’s decision to suddenly withdraw thousands of troops from Syria and Afghanistan could have grave consequences.
“The concern in here by your intelligence chiefs,” she said, “is that you could in that vacuum see a resurgence of ISIS, see a resurgence of terror groups like Al Qaeda ―”
Trump interrupted, “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.”
“We have a base in Iraq and the base is a fantastic edifice,” he continued. “I mean I was there recently, and I couldn’t believe the money that was spent on these massive runways.”
Brennan called out Trump for ‘telegraphing your retreat’ in the Middle East
“[You] campaigned saying that President Obama made a big mistake by telegraphing his military moves,” Brennan told the president. “You’re telegraphing your retreat.”
Trump bristled at her assertion. “I’m not telegraphing anything,” he claimed. “No, no, no. There’s a difference. ... [Obama] showed tremendous weakness. But we didn’t have Syria whereas we had Iraq.”
On keeping troops in Iraq: ‘Well, we spent a fortune on building this incredible base’
Brennan asked Trump about his decision to keep American troops in Iraq, despite his saying going into Iraq was “one of the greatest mistakes” the U.S. has made.
“Well, we spent a fortune on building this incredible base,” the president responded. “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.”
Brennan, apparently taken aback by Trump’s response, responded, “Whoa, that’s news. You’re keeping troops in Iraq because you want to be able to strike in Iran?”
Trump replied that he simply wants “to be able to watch Iran.”
“We’re going to keep watching and we’re going to keep seeing and if there’s trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we’re going to know it before they do,” he added.
On whether the Taliban can be trusted: ‘They’re tired’
After acknowledging negotiations between the U.S. and Taliban, Trump was asked whether the militant political group in Afghanistan could be trusted.
“Look, whether we should have been there in the first place, that’s first question,” Trump responded, referring to America’s nearly 19-year presence in Afghanistan. “Second question―”
Brennan interrupted, “That’s where 9/11 was launched from.”
“We’ve been there for 19 years, almost,” the president continued. “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.”
Trump bashed President George W. Bush’s intelligence officials. But said he trusts Bolton... a hawkish former Bush official.
While defending his decision to publicly disagree with the intelligence community, Trump tore into President George W. Bush’s intelligence community.
“President Bush had intel people that said Saddam Hussein in Iraq had nuclear weapons,” Trump said. “Guess what? Those intel people didn’t know what the hell they were doing, and they got us tied up in a war that we should have never been in.”
Experts say the U.S. invaded Iraq for several reasons, including cherry-picked intelligence findings promoted by Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney as well as neoconservatives who had long pushed for Hussein to be overthrown.
Brennan pointed out that National Security Adviser John Bolton, whom Trump named to the role in March 2018, worked in the Bush administration. Bolton served as the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs from 2001 to 2005 and had been an early supporter of the invasion of Iraq. Historians have dubbed him an architect of the Iraq War.
But Trump said he trusts Bolton nonetheless.
“I respect John and John is not one of the people that happened to be testifying,” he said, referring to some intelligence officials who testified about national security in front of a Senate panel Tuesday.
Having so many ‘acting’ Cabinet members ‘gives me more flexibility’
Brennan questioned Trump over the several members of his Cabinet who hold “acting” rather than permanent positions such as acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
“It’s easier to make moves when they’re acting,” Trump said, hinting that more shake-ups within his administration could be on the horizon. Under the Trump presidency, top government positions have seen an unprecedented rate of turnover.
“I like acting because I can move so quickly,” he continued. “It gives me more flexibility.”
Trump said he fires people “when it doesn’t get done,” adding that he had ordered Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to resign.
“I wasn’t happy with his service,” Trump told CBS. “I told him give me a letter.”
Mattis submitted his letter of resignation a day after Trump announced the sudden withdrawal of troops from Syria, a move widely criticized by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Mattis, who disagreed with Trump’s decision, wrote in his resignation letter that the president “has a right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours.”
‘I took care of’ criminal justice reform NFL players protested for
Trump claimed a boost in NFL ratings this season could be attributed to NFL players kneeling less during the national anthem in protest of police brutality.
“They haven’t been kneeling and they have been respecting the flag and their ratings have been terrific ever since,” he said. “And a lot of good things happened.”
He continued, “A lot of it is having to do with reform from what I understand. Whether it’s criminal justice or whatever it may be and they have different versions and everybody seemed to have a different version of it. But a lot of it had to do with that, and I took care of that.”
Trump’s comments referred to his signing into law in December a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill. The so-called First Step Act was the first major overhaul of prison sentencing laws in decades. Critics of the legislation say the reform doesn’t go far enough.
‘Something very special’ is happening with race relations in the U.S.
Trump credited himself for job growth among African-Americans and Hispanic Americans. And though he is beloved by white supremacists, the president said he is to thank for what he claimed are improving race relations.
“In terms of race, a lot of people are saying, well, this is something very special what’s happening,” he said. “I think if you look at the numbers for African-American unemployment, best numbers they’ve had ― literally the best numbers they’ve had in history. And I think they like me a lot and I like them a lot.”
On son Barron potentially playing football: ‘I would have a hard time with it’
Trump said he wouldn’t say no if his youngest son, Barron, wanted to play football, but he wouldn’t “steer him that way.”
“I just don’t like the reports that I see coming out having to do with football ― I mean, it’s a dangerous sport,” he said, likely referring to studies that show a strong connection between playing the sport and serious brain injuries.
“I hate to say it because I love to watch football,” Trump continued. “I think the NFL is a great product, but I really think that as far as my son ― well, I’ve heard NFL players saying they wouldn’t let their sons play football. So ... I would have a hard time with it.”
Trump in November 2015 said he worried the NFL was getting too soft.
“I hope they don’t soften the game up too much,” Trump had said at the time. “Don’t make it too politically correct. What we’re doing in the country is that everything has to be [politically correct]. It’s a violent game.”
Refused to say whether Mueller report should be public
Trump, per usual, continued to attack special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump obstructed justice.
Asked if he would make Mueller’s report public once it’s finished, Trump passed the buck.
“Totally up to the attorney general,” he told Brennan. “I don’t know. It depends. I have no idea what it’s going to say.”
He added, “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.”
U.S. military intervention in Venezuela ‘an option’
Asked what national security interest the U.S. would have in sending troops to Venezuela, Trump said he didn’t want to say.
“Certainly it’s something that’s on the ― it’s an option,” he said. He added that he turned down a meeting request from Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who has refused to step down despite the country’s National Assembly calling his election illegitimate.
“That was the wealthiest country of all in that part of the world, which is a very important part of the world,” Trump said. “And now you look at the poverty and you look at the anguish and you look at the crime and you look at all of the things happening. So, I think the process is playing out ― very, very big, tremendous protests.”
During a White House press briefing last week meant to detail new sanctions on Maduro and Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Bolton was photographed holding a yellow legal pad that read, “5,000 troops to Colombia,” a country sharing a border with Venezuela.