Thursday, March 23, 2017

Can President Trump Handle the Truth?

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By Michael Scherer

Generations of American children have learned the apocryphal tale of young George Washington, bravely admitting to his father that he chopped down the cherry tree. The story sprang from a culture that wanted even its fables to serve the ideal of truth. By that standard, the House Intelligence Committee hearing on March 20 should have been a massive humiliation for the President, who followed Washington 228 years later. It is rare for such hearings to be unclassified--and thus televised--but FBI Director James Comey found the largest possible audience for his rebuke of the sitting President.

He had given Donald Trump nearly three weeks to walk back his incendiary tweets accusing President Obama of "wire tapping" Trump Tower during the campaign. If such surveillance had been done through legal channels, the FBI would have known; if done illegally, it was a scandal of historic proportions and the FBI should be digging into it. Either way, Trump's accusation implicated the integrity of Comey's bureau, which is why the former prosecutor felt compelled to push back as the cameras rolled. "I have no information that supports those tweets," Comey said. "We have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same."

The statement was concise, direct and damning. The President of the United States had been marked as a fabulist by one of the top officials in government charged with finding the truth. And yet, for the man being called out, the rebuke was nothing of the sort.

"I'm a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right," Trump told TIME two days later, in a 20-minute phone interview from the Oval Office. The testimony, in other words, had not fazed him at all. He was still convinced he would be proved right. "I have articles saying it happened."

That is not exactly true. The New York Times reported on Jan. 20 that wiretapped data had been used in an investigation of Trump's advisers, but not that Obama had targeted Trump for wiretapping, as Trump had claimed. But he had new ammunition: House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes had just announced that he had seen intelligence reports showing the President-elect and his team were "at least monitored" as part of "legally collected" information. Nunes suggested the monitoring was most likely the result of "incidental collection," which occurs when a target of an intelligence operation, like a foreign ambassador, talks with another U.S. person. But Nunes never claimed that Obama wiretapped Trump.

And yet for Trump, who proceeded to read at length over the phone from a Politico article on Nunes' statement, such distinctions did not matter. "That means I'm right," he said. He also argued that the punctuation in his original tweet meant he did not mean wiretapping in the literal sense. "When I said 'wire tapping,' it was in quotes," he said.

What did he mean? Trump argued that his claims about scandalous wiretaps by Obama had to be viewed within the context of other assertions he had made in the past, which had later come true. He had predicted, for instance, that the sexting of former Representative Anthony Weiner would become a problem for Hillary Clinton's campaign, which it did, when the FBI found emails to Clinton on his computer. He had claimed that he would win the White House, when few believed him, which he did. He claimed that Britain would vote to exit the European Union--"I took a lot of heat when I said Brexit was going to pass." He described Brussels as a "hellhole" before a major terrorist attack there. "I happen to be a person that knows how life works," he said.

He also claimed credit for things he had said that were factually incorrect at the time, but for which he later found evidence. At a February rally, in a discussion about problems caused by new migrants in Europe, he said, "Look at what's happening last night in Sweden." Nothing had happened the prior night in Sweden, prompting diplomatic protests from Stockholm. But days later, there was a riot in a predominantly immigrant suburb in response to a local arrest. Which, to the President's way of thinking, made him a truth-teller. "I was right about that," he said.

Truth, in other words, takes time to ripen: he also said his unsubstantiated claim that at least 3 million undocumented immigrants had voted illegally in the 2016 election would be proved right eventually, though he hinted to TIME that he no longer stood by all parts of that claim. "When I say that, I mean mostly they register wrong. In other words, for the votes, they register incorrectly, and/or illegally," the President said. "I'm forming a committee on it."

The more the conversation continued, the more the binary distinctions between truth and falsehood blurred, the telltale sign of a veteran and strategic misleader who knows enough to leave himself an escape route when he tosses a bomb. Rather than assert things outright, he often couches provocative statements as "beliefs," or attributes them to unnamed "very smart people." During the campaign, he claimed falsely that Texas Senator Ted Cruz's father had consorted with the assassin who killed John F. Kennedy. Now as President, Trump argued that he had done nothing wrong by spreading the fiction, since it had been printed in the National Enquirer, a tabloid famous for its unconventional editorial standards.

"Why do you say that I have to apologize?" he asked. "I am just quoting the newspaper." He appeared to do it again, when he repeated the accusation of a Fox News contributor, Andrew Napolitano, who claimed his network was told by three former intelligence officials that Obama had asked the British to surveil Trump's campaign. Fox News repudiated the claim, the pundit vanished from the airwaves, the British called the accusation "ridiculous," and the head of the U.S. National Security Agency said it would not have happened under his watch. And yet Trump did not back down. "I have a lot of respect for Judge Napolitano," he said. "I don't know where he has gone with it since then."

Trump has in this way brought to the Oval Office an entirely different set of assumptions about the proper behavior of a public official, and introduced to the country entirely new rules for public debate. In some ways, it is not surprising. For years, we have known Trump colored outside the lines of what was actually real because he told us. As a businessman, Trump wrote in praise of strategic falsehood, or "truthful hyperbole," as he preferred to call it. Sometimes his whoppers were clumsy, the apparent result of being ill informed or promiscuous in his sources. Sometimes he exaggerated to get a rise out of his audience. But often Trump's untruths give every sign of being deliberate and thought through. Trump recently bragged about a drop in the Labor Department jobless rate--after calling the same statistic "phony" when it signaled improvement under Obama. Trump explained the contradiction through his spokesman with a quip: "They may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now."

Through it all, he has presented himself as the last honest man, and among his fervent supporters, he hits notes that harmonize with the facts of their lives as they deeply feel them. To beat a polygraph, it's said you should make some part of your brain believe what you are saying. Friends of Trump report that the President would pass with flying colors. He tells them privately that he believes the things he tweets in public. Despite the luxury and ease of his own life, he seems genuine in his belief that the system is rigged, and that life is a zero-sum game: no one wins without someone else losing. Reality, for the reality-show mogul, is something to be invented episode by episode.

And what reality is Trump creating? He entered national politics in 2011 peddling the incredible theory that Obama might have been born in Africa--and therefore constitutionally barred from the presidency. In those days Trump was widely dismissed as a reckless self-promoter, though he clung to his story for five years, using it to get television bookings and newspaper coverage, before surrendering it with a shrug. Looking back, it's striking to see a future President testing the waters by charging the elected incumbent with fraud and illegitimacy without introducing a shred of evidence.

That was a fitting warm-up for Trump's official entry into the 2016 campaign. The Mexican government, he alleged, is deliberately dumping its hoodlums in the U.S. Later that year, he answered the Paris terrorist attacks by claiming, without substantiation, that he had seen "thousands and thousands of people" celebrating in New Jersey as the Twin Towers smoldered on 9/11 on television. (No footage is known to exist.)

Trump's alternative reality is dark, divisive and pessimistic, and it tends to position him and his supporters as heroic victims of injustice. Despite this--or maybe because of it--his reckless assertions are weapons that often work. He commandeers the traditional news cycle and makes visceral connections with voters. By taking on Obama over his birth certificate, Trump charmed a right-wing constituency and ratcheted himself to the level of White House--ready. By scorning good manners to attack border crossers and Muslims, Trump showed solidarity with the politically incorrect and advertised his iconoclasm. By flouting fact-checkers and making journalists his enemy, he is driving home the theme that his turbulent presidency is a struggle to the death with a despised Washington elite.

Trump has discovered something about epistemology in the 21st century. The truth may be real, but falsehood often works better. It is for this same reason that Russia deployed paid Internet trolls in the 2016 campaign, according to U.S. investigators, repeatedly promoting lies on U.S. social networks to muddy the debate. In the radical democracy of social media, even the retweets of outraged truth squadders has the effect of rebroadcasting false messages. Controversy elevates message. And it keeps the President on offense.

If the fable of President Trump is ever written, young Donald might say to his father: I'm not gonna lie to you, Dad. The tree has been chopped--smart people say maybe by illegal immigrants or Muslims. There are some bad hombres. Anyway, it's gone, and I'm gonna build something truly terrific on this parcel.

"These big falsehoods are different," explains Bill Adair, who created PolitiFact, the fact-checking journalistic site that won a Pulitzer Prize. "They are like a neutron bomb. They just take over the discussion and obliterate a lot of other things that we should be discussing."

Since winning the White House, Trump has employed this weapon at specific times, often when he is losing control of the national story line. He pulled the trigger on Nov. 27, a day after Clinton's vanquished campaign agreed to join in a recount of votes in Wisconsin. Over the course of that day, Trump sent out 11 tweets, averaging 18,440 retweets, expressing his outrage over the situation. But the two most widely read and shared, by wide margins, were the false ones.

His incorrect claim that he had won the popular vote "if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally" was retweeted more than 53,000 times. His unsupported allegation of "serious voter fraud" in three states that he lost was forwarded more than 31,000 times. The virtual world far prefers the outrageous, the new, the controversial to the normal routine of reason and verification. And so does the world of news. Television and print reporters rushed to examine the President-elect's sensational statements, thus spreading them further. In the dog-eat-dog world of Donald Trump, Clinton had taken the first swing, and he was justified in fighting back with the full force of the Internet.

TIME reviewed the 298 tweets Trump has sent since being elected President as of March 21. Fifteen included clear falsehoods, like the wiretap claims. The false messages were retweeted an average of 28,550 times. Those that were not clearly false were retweeted on average 23,945 times. The viral effect of falsehood being repeated on the news was many times more pronounced. According to a search through the Internet Archive, a nonprofit library database, the false tweets were quoted on television an average of 31 times, more than twice as often as other tweets.

For Trump's allies, this is a measure of strategic brilliance, not defective character. "He understands how to make something an issue and elevate the discussion by saying things that are contrary, perhaps even unproved," explains Roger Stone, a former adviser to Trump, who has his own penchant for spreading false conspiracy theories. "He has the ability to change the subject to what he wants to talk about."

The night before his wiretap maneuver had been a trying one for Trump's young White House, according to aides. It was a Friday, and the President was frustrated that his widely praised address to Congress on Tuesday had been overtaken by darker news. Revelations of previously denied contacts between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a Russian official had led Sessions to recuse himself from any probe of Russian election interference. The LexisNexis database registered 509 stories or news transcripts referring to some aspect of the story.

Aides later said Trump latched on to an online article by a conservative talk-show host, who assembled previously published media reports into a speculative indictment of Obama. Whether Trump was persuaded by the theory or simply looking for something explosive to change the story line, he knew he had found dynamite. "There is one page in the Trump White House crisis-management playbook," argued Obama's former White House spokesman Josh Earnest two days later. "And that is simply to tweet or say something outrageous to distract from a scandal." It worked. His tweet replaced the Russian story at the top of the news, generating 514 stories that Sunday.

Trump is by no means the first to use diversion and distortion as a political weapon. During the 2016 Brexit debate in Great Britain, critics of the E.U. exaggerated the cost of E.U. membership to average Britons by roughly 100%. The ensuing argument over the correct amount served to focus resentment that citizens were paying anything at all.

Democrats have been caught playing the game. Former Senate leader Harry Reid floated the false claim that Mitt Romney did not pay taxes, without any evidence. And in both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, the Obama campaign suggested that Republican nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney opposed abortion even in cases of rape and incest. They did not, but the misdirection tilted the abortion debate toward an issue favorable to most Democrats.

Trump took this occasional tool and made it a favorite weapon. "The President has a history of being a negotiator," explains Christopher Ruddy, a longtime friend of Trump's, who continues to meet with him in Florida. "If I look back, I think he is always in a state of negotiation with everybody, all the time. He takes an exaggerated position to create a new middle ground. He moves the goalposts to force other people to move."

And he is able to withstand tremendous derision over his untruthfulness. A man who has cheerfully discussed intimate details of his private life on the air with Howard Stern, a man who mugs and poses at professional-wrestling bouts, a man who encouraged the coverage of his own affair in the New York tabloids is not overburdened by a sense of shame. This has proved to be an advantage over politicians who fear the embarrassment of being caught in a lie.

That fear has been documented by political scientists. During the 2012 election season, two researchers randomly divided 1,169 state legislators from nine states into three groups. One group received letters warning that they were being monitored for falsehood by PolitiFact, and that any false statements would soil their reputations and risk defeat. The second group was sent letters saying their statements were being monitored--but with no explicit warning of consequences. The third group wasn't contacted at all.

Group A--the ones who were warned of consequences--proved to be more cautious about the truth. They had their accuracy questioned at less than half the rate of the other groups. "Politicians typically care not just how the public cares about them but about how elites care about them," explained Dartmouth's Brendan Nyhan, one of the authors of the study. "Trump doesn't care." Indeed, even exit polls on Election Day found that 65% of voters--including 28% of his own voters--said that he isn't "honest and trustworthy." Yet that hasn't stopped his rise.

The question now is this: Can this same strategy work for a President of the United States? The credibility Trump toys with is no longer just his own. For generations, the world has looked to American leadership in times of crises, one grounded in an historic fidelity to basic facts and a sobriety of rhetoric. What does it mean if the President now needs to use that credibility to rally support in a new confrontation with North Korea? Will the world have time or patience to consider which words he has put air quotes around?

The conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal had raised the question on the same morning Trump called TIME, with a biting condemnation of Trump's falsehoods. The article compared the President to a drunk, clinging "to an empty gin bottle" of fabrication. Trump had read the piece, and he did not approve. "The country's not buying it. It is fake media," he said of the Journal. "The country believes me. Hey, I went to Kentucky two nights ago. We had 25,000 people."

 It is true that Trump has many supporters. One possibility is that this shift in behavior at the top will lead to an increased skepticism among the voters and politicians on whom Trump depends. Reams of social science long ago established that partisans tend to unconsciously overlook falsehoods that come from their own team, while being outraged by the errors of their enemies. But Trump's excesses are exasperating even his fellow Republicans. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has stepped up his warnings about Trump's tweeting, telling one conservative outlet that it "takes attention away" from his party's accomplishments. Trump isn't moved. "Mitch is a wonderful man," the President told TIME. "Mitch will speak for himself."

But other Republican members of Congress have become more bold in voicing their concerns. "There's a lot of distractions," agrees Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, whose state gave Trump 56% of its votes. "I just would say that truth is foundational. It's important in public life, and all of us need to do what we can to tell it the way the facts are." Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida agrees: "The White House and the President have to understand that there's a cost to all of this. This country needs a government that it can trust."

Ultimately, democracy needs facts to allow for public debate and provide a check on abuses of power. "Truth has a despotic character," philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote in a 1968 essay on the subject. "It is therefore hated by tyrants who rightly fear the competition of a coercive force they cannot monopolize." Although Trump is a tyrant only in the minds of his most fevered critics, he often talks like one. "Any negative polls are fake news," he tweeted in his third week on the job. The Gallup daily tracking poll of Trump's approval fell below 40% after the release of his Obamacare replacement bill.

With time, Trump may find he has committed himself to a strategy that will deteriorate with reuse, because with each passing month the American people will be gathering their own data on his habits and tactics, and what they yield. They will decide whether it's true, as Trump has promised, that health care costs are lower and everyone has wonderful insurance. They will fact-check his pledge of millions of new manufacturing jobs. They will see whether their incomes rise and their taxes fall, whether Mexico pays for a giant wall. "In the end, Presidents aren't allowed to get away with excuses," explains Bill Galston, a presidential scholar who worked in the Clinton White House. "They pay a price for the promises they make." This is a truth that no one yet has been able to tweet away.

Before he got off the phone, I tried one more time to get Trump to answer a question about the risk to his reputation caused by false and ever changing utterances. Once again, he would not accept the premise. "Hey, look," he said. "I can't be doing so badly, because I'm President and you're not." As a factual matter, the last part of this statement is indisputably true. And with that, he graciously said goodbye and went back to running the affairs of the most powerful country in the world.

Read President Trump's Interview With TIME on Truth and Falsehoods

President Trump spoke with TIME Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer on March 22 for a cover story about the way he has handled truth and falsehood in his career.
This is a transcript of the exchange, with some minor edits. The transcript does not include requests he made of his staff during the interview, or a comment he made after asking to go off the record.
TIME: Hey Mr. President, Thank you for taking the time.
Absolutely. How have you been, OK?
Yeah, it has been a wild couple months. You keep us busy.
Yeah, it’s been good though. It’s been good.
Do you want me to give you a quick overview [of the story]?
Yeah, it’s a cool story. I mean it’s, the concept is right. I predicted a lot of things, Michael. Some things that came to you a little bit later. But, you know, we just rolled out a list. Sweden. I make the statement, everyone goes crazy. The next day they have a massive riot, and death, and problems. Huma [Abedin] and Anthony [Weiner], you know, what I tweeted about that whole deal, and then it turned out he had it, all of Hillary’s email on his thingNATO, obsolete, because it doesn’t cover terrorism. They fixed that, and I said that the allies must pay. Nobody knew that they weren’t paying. I did. I figured it. Brexit, I was totally right about that. You were over there I think, when I predicted that, right, the day before. Brussels, I said, Brussels is not Brussels. I mean many other things, the election’s rigged against Bernie Sanders. We have a lot of things.
But there’s other things you said that haven’t panned out. The peg for this story is the wiretapping hearing on Monday, in which [FBI Director James] Comey and [NSA Director Mike] Rogers testified about your tweets there.
Yeah well if you’d look at, in fact I’ll give you the front page story, and just today I heard, just a little while ago, that Devin Nunes had a news conference, did you hear about this, where they have a lot of information on tapping. Did you hear about that?
I have not, no.
Now remember this. When I said wiretapping, it was in quotes. Because a wiretapping is, you know today it is different than wire tapping. It is just a good description. But wiretapping was in quotes. What I’m talking about is surveillance. And today, [House Intelligence Committee Chairman] Devin Nunes just had a news conference. Now probably got obliterated by what’s happened in London. But just had a news conference, and here it is one of those things. The other one, election, I said we are going to win, we won. And many other things. And I think this is going to be very interesting.
So you don’t feel like Comey’s testimony in any way takes away from the credibility of the tweets you put out, even with the quotes?
No, I have, look. I have articles saying it happened. But you have to take a look at what they, they just went out at a news conference. Devin Nunes had a news conference. I mean I don’t know, I was unable to see it, because I am at meetings, but they just had a news conference talking about surveillance. Now again, it is in quotes. That means surveillance and various other things. And the New York Times had a front-page story, which they actually reduced, they took it, they took it the word wiretapping out of the title, but its first story in the front page of the paper was wiretapping. And a lot of information has just been learned, and a lot of information may be learned over the next coming period of time. We will see what happens. Look. I predicted a lot of things that took a little of bit of time. Here, headline, for the front page of the New York Times, "Wiretapped data used in inquiry of Trump aides." That’s a headline. Now they then dropped that headline, I never saw this until this morning. They then dropped that headline, and they used another headline without the word wiretap, but they did mean wiretap. Wiretapped data used in inquiry. Then changed after that, they probably didn’t like it. And they changed the title. They took the wiretap word out.
One of my ideas here is that throughout the campaign and now as president, you have used disputed statements, this is one of them that is disputed, the claim that three million undocumented people voted in the election…
Well I think I will be proved right about that too.
The claim that Muslims celebrated on 9-11 in New Jersey…
Well if you look at the reporter, he wrote the story in the Washington Post.
But my idea is that whatever the reality of what you are describing, the fact that they are disputed makes them a more effective message, that you are able to spread the message further, that more people get excited about it, that it gets on TV.
Well now if you take a look at the votes, when I say that, I mean mostly they register wrong, in other words, for the votes, they register incorrectly, and/or illegally. And they then vote. You have tremendous numbers of people. In fact I’m forming a committee on it.
But there’s no evidence that 3 million people voted with…
We’ll see after the committee. I have people say it was more than that. We will see after we have. But there will be, we are forming a committee. And we are going to do a study on it, a very serious problem.
Is there anything different about making these kinds of predictions without having the factual evidence as President?
I’m a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right. When everyone said I wasn’t going to win the election, I said well I think I would. You know it is interesting, somebody came up to me and said the other day, gee whiz, the New York Times and other people, you know other groups, had you down at one percent, well, I said no I think I am going to win, and people smiled, George Stephanopoulos laughed, you remember. He thought it was very cute, and very funny. Other people smiled. And some people, the smart people or the people that know me didn’t laugh at all. There are people that know me, like Carl Icahn and many others, that didn’t laugh at all, they thought I was going to win, because they understand how I, they understand me. They get it. But you take a look and guess what, I won, and I won easily. I predicted Brexit. Remember they said there was no way to get to 270? Well I ended up at 306. I had election night, 306. But there was no way to get to, in fact I went to Maine four times, four times I went to Maine, because I had to get one vote, because there was no way to get to 270, but I ended up getting to 306. Brexit, I predicted Brexit, you remember that, the day before the event. I said, no, Brexit is going to happen, and everybody laughed, and Brexit happened. Many many things. They turn out to be right. And now today, Devin Nunes, just had a news conference.
I’ll look that up.
Yeah, just had it. Now the problem, the thing is, I’m not sure they are watching anything other than that, let’s see members of Donald Trump transition team, possibly, oh this just came out. This is a Politico story. Members of the Donald Trump Transition team possibly including Trump himself were under surveillance during the Obama administration following November’s election. House intelligence chairman Devin Nunes told reporters, wow. Nunes said, so that means I’m right, Nunes said the surveillance appears to have been ... incidental collection, that does not appear to have been related to concerns over Russia.
But so incidental collection would not be wiretapping of you, it would be wiretapping of…
Who knows what it is? You know, why, because somebody says incidental. Nunes is going to the White House.
Nunes has also said that he has no evidence that your tweet was right, previously.
Well, he just got this information. This was new information. That was just got. Members, of, let’s see, were under surveillance during the Obama Administration following November’s election. Wow. This just came out. So, ah, just came out.
Mitch McConnell has said he’d rather you stop tweeting, that he sees it as a distraction.
Mitch will speak for himself. Mitch is a wonderful man. Mitch should speak for himself.
But you don’t see any problems caused by these kinds of controversies. Does this, when we are talking in the press about whether the president was wiretapped or not, is this good for you or bad for you?
Probably neither. Probably neither. What I said, look I said, Donna Brazile had information, and she had information on Hillary’s debate questions. I said why didn’t Hillary apologize. Donna Brazile just admitted that that was right. I said the election was rigged against Bernie, a lot of people agree with that one, a lot of people hated the statement when I made it.
But I grant you some of those. But you would agree also that some of the things you have said haven’t been true. You say that Ted Cruz’s father was with Lee Harvey Oswald.
Well that was in a newspaper. No, no, I like Ted Cruz, he’s a friend of mine. But that was in the newspaper. I wasn’t, I didn’t say that. I was referring to a newspaper. A Ted Cruz article referred to a newspaper story with, had a picture of Ted Cruz, his father, and Lee Harvey Oswald, having breakfast.
That gets close to the heart…
Why do you say that I have to apologize? I’m just quoting the newspaper, just like I quoted the judge the other day, Judge Napolitano, I quoted Judge Napolitano, just like I quoted Bret Baier, I mean Bret Baier mentioned the word wiretap. Now he can now deny it, or whatever he is doing, you know. But I watched Bret Baier, and he used that term. I have a lot of respect for Judge Napolitano, and he said that three sources have told him things that would make me right. I don’t know where he has gone with it since then. But I’m quoting highly respected people from highly respected television networks.
But traditionally people in your position in the Oval Office have not said things unless they can verify they are true.
Well, I’m not, well, I think, I’m not saying, I’m quoting, Michael, I’m quoting highly respected people and sources from major television networks.
Did you see the Wall Street Journal opinion page today, the editorial page?
I thought it was, I thought it was a disgrace that they could write that.
But let me just, the hypothetical they started with, you have to announce to the country or to the world that some serious national security event has happened, and…
The country believes me. Hey. I went to Kentucky two nights ago, we had 25,000 people in a massive basketball arena. There wasn’t a seat, they had to send away people. I went to Tennessee four nights ago. We had a packed house, they had to send away thousands of people. You saw that, right. Did you see that?
Yes I did.
The country’s not buying it, it is fake media. And the Wall Street Journal is a part of it.
Ok. So you don’t worry that your credibility, that if you’ve cited things that later turn out to be wrong, based on anonymous sources that that hurts you.
Name what’s wrong! I mean, honestly.
Fox News said…
Brexit. Wait a minute. I predicted Brexit. What I said about NATO was true, people aren’t paying their bills. And everyone said it was a horrible thing to say. And then they found out. And when Germany was over here I said, we are going to have a great relationship with Germany but you have to pay your NATO bills, and they don’t even dispute it, ok. So what have I said that is wrong? Everyone, I got attacked on NATO and now they are all saying I was right. I got attacked on Brexit, when I was saying, I said long before the day before, I said the day before the opening, but I was saying Brexit was going to pass, and everybody was laughing, and I turned out to be right on that. I took a lot of heat when I said Brexit was going to pass. Don’t forget, Obama said that U.K. will go to the back of the line, and I talked about Sweden, and may have been somewhat different, but the following day, two days later, they had a massive riot in Sweden, exactly what I was talking about, I was right about that.
But even in that Sweden quote, you said look at what happened on Friday in Sweden. But you are now saying you were referring to something that happened the following day.
No I am saying I was right. I am talking about Sweden. I’m talking about what Sweden has done to themselves is very sad, that is what I am talking about. That is what I am talking about. You can phrase it any way you want. A day later they had a horrible, horrible riot in Sweden and you saw what happened. I talked about Brussels. I was on the front page of the New York Times for my quote. I said Brussels is not what it used to be, very sad what has happened to Brussels. I was absolutely lambasted. A short time later they had the major attack in Brussels. One year ago today. Exactly one year ago today. And then people said you know Trump was right. What am I going to tell you? I tend to be right. I’m an instinctual person, I happen to be a person that knows how life works. I said I was going to win the election, I won the election, in fact I was number one the entire route, in the primaries, from the day I announced, I was number one. And the New York Times and CNN and all of them, they did these polls, which were extremely bad and they turned out to be totally wrong, and my polls showed I was going to win. We thought we were going to win the night of the election.
So when you…
And then TIME magazine, which treats me horribly, but obviously I sell, I assume this is going to be a cover too, have I set the record? I guess, right? Covers, nobody’s had more covers.
I think Richard Nixon still has you beat. But he was in office for longer, so give yourself time.
Ok good. I’m sure I’ll win.
If you go back to Comey testifying that he and the Justice Department have no information to back up your tweet, the head of the NSA testifying that there is no information to back up your tweet, or the claim made by Judge Napolitano…
On front page of the New York Times, OK? It’s in the title of the front page. And I would like you to officially—I know you are going to write a bad article because you always do—[mention] wiretap data used in inquiry of Trump aides. OK. Wiretapped data used in inquiry of Trump aids. Ok? Can you possibly put that down? Front page, January 20th. Now in their second editions, they took it all down under the internet. They took that out. Ok? But that’s the way it is. And then they just had a news conference now where they turned out, you watch. You watch.
That is different…
I’m not criticizing anybody, I’m just saying.
That is different than the president wiretapping you which would be a crime outside of a court.
Well I don’t know where these wiretaps came from. They came from someplace. That is what they should find out. And you know the real story here is about the leakers. OK? You don’t write about that. But the real story here is, who released General Flynn’s name? Who released, who released my conversations with Australia, and who released my conversation with Mexico? To me, Michael, that’s the story, these leakers, they are disgusting. These are horrible people.
And apparently there is an investigation into that as well.
Well should be, because that’s where the whole, who would think that you are speaking to the head of Mexico, the head of Australia, or General Flynn, who was, they are not supposed to release that. That is the most confidential stuff. Classified. That’s classified. You go to prison when you release stuff like that. And who would release that? The real story is, they have to work, intelligence has to work on finding out who are the leakers. Because you know what? When things get involved with North Korea and all the problems we have there, in the Middle East, I mean, that information cannot be leaked out, and it will be by this, this same, and these people were here in the Obama years, because he had plenty of leakers also. But intelligence has to find out, who are these people. Because the biggest story here is, who is leaking this classified information.
But isn’t there, it strikes me there is still an issue of credibility. If the intelligence community came out and said, we have determined that so and so is the leaker here, but you are saying to me now, that you don’t believe the intelligence community when they say your tweet was wrong.
I’m not saying—no, I’m not blaming. First of all, I put Mike Pompeo in. I put Senator Dan Coats in. These are great people. I think they are great people and they are going to, I have a lot of confidence in them. So hopefully things will straighten out. But I inherited a mess, I inherited a mess in so many ways. I inherited a mess in the Middle East, and a mess with North Korea, I inherited a mess with jobs, despite the statistics, you know, my statistics are even better, but they are not the real statistics because you have millions of people that can’t get a job, ok. And I inherited a mess on trade. I mean we have many, you can go up and down the ladder. But that’s the story. Hey look, in the mean time, I guess, I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not. You know. Say hello to everybody OK?
Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Trump the Dealmaker Projects Bravado, but Behind the Scenes, Faces Rare Self-Doubt

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President Trump, the author of “The Art of the Deal,” has been projecting his usual bravado in public this week about the prospects of repealing the Affordable Care Act. Privately he is grappling with rare bouts of self-doubt.
Mr. Trump has told four people close to him that he regrets going along with Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s plan to push a health care overhaul before unveiling a tax cut proposal more politically palatable to Republicans.
He said ruefully this week that he should have done tax reform first when it became clear that the quick-hit health care victory he had hoped for was not going to materialize on Thursday, the seventh anniversary of the act’s passage, when the legislation was scheduled for a vote.

Two of his most influential advisers — Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, and Gary D. Cohn, the National Economic Council director, who had a major role in pushing the bill — came to agree, and did not like the compromise that was emerging. So on Thursday night, Mr. Trump delivered an ultimatum.
He dispatched his budget adviser, Mick Mulvaney, to a conference of House Republicans and told them they had to vote on Friday. And if the bill fails, he said, Mr. Trump will move on.
A president who prefers unilateral executive action and takes intense pride in his ability to cut deals finds himself in a humbling negotiation unlike any other in his career, pinned between moderates who believe the health care measure is too harsh, and a larger group of fiscal conservatives adept at using their leverage to scuttle big deals cut by other Republican leaders.
Over the years, Mr. Trump has proved to be a resilient operator, and even his most scathing critics do not rule out his ability to pull off some kind of a deal, even at a late hour.
“I don’t know whether he will ultimately succeed or fail, but I will tell you that President Trump is so transactional, who knows what transactions he will be willing to make to pass this,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, who passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010 as speaker.
“So far he’s acting like a rookie. It’s really been amateur hour,” she added. “He seems to think that a charm offensive or a threat will work — that saying ‘I can do this for you’ or ‘I can do this against you’ will work. That’s not the way it works. You have to build real consensus, and you have a to gain a real knowledge of the policy — and the president hasn’t done either of those things.”
Crashing on the shoals of Congress marks Mr. Trump’s first true encounter with legislative realities and the realization that a president’s power is less limitless than it appears, particularly in the face of an intransigent voting bloc. Mr. Trump is not used to a hard no — but that was the word of the week.
Before he sent Mr. Mulvaney to Capitol Hill to deliver his message Thursday night, the president had met with recalcitrant lawmakers at the White House. Mr. Trump reiterated his veiled threat that Republicans who voted no would be punished by constituents who demand they fulfill their promises to roll back the law. He made clear to members of the House Freedom Caucus during a testy hourlong face-off in the Cabinet Room that they were going to have only have one chance to fulfill their vows of repealing and replacing the health law, and this was it, according to people who were in the room.
If Mr. Trump has any advantage in the negotiations, it is his ideological flexibility: He is more interested in a win, or avoiding a loss, than any of the arcane policy specifics of the complicated measure, according to a dozen aides and allies interviewed over the past week who described his mood as impatient and jittery. Already, he has shown that flexibility by going back on campaign promises that no one would lose coverage when the Affordable Care Acrt was replaced and he wouldn’t cut Medicaid.
To Mr. Trump and his team, the health care repeal is a troublesome stepchild. His son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, who is vacationing with his family in Aspen this week, has said for days that the bill was a mistake to support. Yet Mr. Trump wants to fulfill his party’s pledge to roll back President Obama’s signature accomplishment, but only as a prelude to building his wall, cutting taxes and pushing his $1 trillion infrastructure package.
But resistance from his own party forced Mr. Ryan to delay the vote — even if he cast it as a take-it-or-leave-it deal.
Until this week, Mr. Trump was slow to recognize the high stakes of the fight, or the implications of losing. He approved the agenda putting health care first late last year, almost in passing, in meetings with Mr. Ryan, Vice President Mike Pence and Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff.
Staff members agreed on a hasty rollout strategy during weekend meetings earlier this month — with Mr. Pence suggesting that the president maintain distance from the proposal, urging him to refer to the bill as Mr. Ryan’s creation, according to senior Republicans.
Only in the past two weeks, as Mr. Trump focused on his ongoing defense of accusations that his presidential campaign colluded with Russia, has he focused his energies and powers of persuasion on ramming through a proposal that is likely to result in the loss of health insurance for millions, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trump made a key concession to fiscal hawks by agreeing to scrap the health care law’s provision mandating “essential benefits” — like outpatient visits, mental health services and some maternity care — in a bid to lower premiums. But that was not enough. Representative Mark Meadows, the North Carolina Republican who leads the Freedom Caucus, said he was still a no.
That concession also risked alienating center-right Republicans in the House and Senate, where the bill already faced an uncertain fate.
“In order to get this bill out of the House, they have pushed this bill too far to the right,” said Representative Charlie Dent, a moderate Pennsylvania Republican who planned to vote against the legislation, and who was singled out for pressure by Mr. Trump at a meeting on Thursday. “It’s a mistake. Even if it passes, the Senate will never accept it.”
David Winston, a pollster who works with the House Republican leadership, said any delay could block Mr. Trump’s entire agenda. “You’re not looking at health care in isolation; you’re looking at an agenda that they want to pursue, and obviously the next big one coming up is going to be tax reform,” he said. “Whichever came first was going to set up the other.”
But Thursday’s reality check came with a Trumpian dose of the surreal.
Mr. Trump appeared almost oblivious to the dire situation unfolding in the hours after he hosted a meeting with members of the House Freedom Caucus at the White House, where he made the case Mr. Winston pointed to — that not passing the health bill risks the rest of the Republican agenda.
In the midafternoon, a beaming Mr. Trump climbed into the rig of a black tractor-trailer, which had been driven to the White House for an event with trucking industry executives, honking the horn and posing for a series of tough-guy photos — one with his fists held aloft, another staring straight ahead, hands gripping the large wheel, his face compressed into an excited scream.
At a meeting inside shortly after, Mr. Trump announced that he was pressed for time and needed to go make calls for more votes.
A reporter informed him that the vote had already been called off.