Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump says he expects to announce his vice-presidential pick “just prior” to the kickoff of the 2016 Republican convention in Cleveland.
“I think sometime prior, just prior, to the convention,” Trump told TIME in an interview in his New York office on Wednesday. The billionaire real-estate developer left open the possibility that the announcement could still come during the convention, which runs from July 18 to July 22. “But I would say sometime prior to the convention,” Trump added.
That timetable is as specific as Trump has been about his schedule for announcing a running mate, although aides have recently revised initial predictions and told reporters that the pick would likely come before the convention. Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who withdrew Wednesday from consideration for the job, told the Washington Post that he expected Trump to make a final decision by July 15, three days before the event opens.
As he auditions potential running mates for the role, Trump has tried to drum up interest in the process through public events and Twitter hints. He will campaign Wednesday night in Cincinnati with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a day after appearing in Raleigh, N.C., with Corker. Trump met over the weekend with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who also appeared to take herself out of the running on Wednesday. And he tweeted praise for Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who like Ernst is a freshman senator with military experience. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who Trump tapped to lead his White House transition effort, is also on the short list to join the ticket.
But in recent days, Trump has stepped on the speculation by sparking a series of controversies. Over the weekend, his campaign took fire for tweeting—and subsequently deleting and revising—an image of Hillary Clinton overlaid with a flurry of $100 bills and a six-pointed star that resembled a Star of David. Critics said the graphic—which appeared on a white supremacist message board before a campaign staffer plucked the image off the Internet—evoked anti-Semitic imagery.
Talking to TIME on Wednesday, Trump blasted reporters for distorting the meaning of the image. “It was a star. I never viewed it as the Star of David and I still don’t view it as the star of David,” he said. “And it wasn’t picked up by me, it was picked up by somebody who works for me—who happens to be married to a Jewish woman. But this was a star that was picked up on the Internet, and the words ‘Corrupt Hillary” were there. And all we did was tweet it out.”
Trump also groused about news coverage of his remarks Tuesday night in Raleigh, where he praised former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for being good at killing terrorists.
“What I said about Saddam Hussein is he’s a bad person – a very, very bad guy,” Trump told TIME. “But he was good at killing terrorists. So basically, the fact that I said that, they said that I love Saddam Hussein.
“These are very, very dishonest people,” Trump said of reporters covering the controversy. “They’re untalented and they’re dishonest and for the most part they’re not very bright. But they have a false narrative going.”
While jihadist networks have spread in Iraq since Hussein was ousted from power, the nation was identified by the U.S. State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism prior to the 2003 invasion.
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