President Donald Trump sat down for an interview with TIME in the Oval Office on June 17 for a story on his re-election campaign.
During the 57-minute conversation, he discussed his Democratic rivals, his unusual approach to the 2020 campaign and his first-term accomplishments, as well as his thoughts on Iran, China and Mexico and domestic issues like abortion and the economy.
At various points during the interview, the President asked to go off-the-record, and TIME is honoring those requests.
Below is a lightly edited transcript of the interview between Trump and TIME Editor-in-Chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal, Washington Bureau Chief Massimo Calabresi, Senior White House Correspondent Brian Bennett and White House Correspondent Tessa Berenson.
TIME: I wanted to begin in the news. Iran overnight said it was considering enriching uranium at levels that would violate the 2015 nuclear agreement. You’ve been very clear that you won’t let Iran get a nuclear weapon.
TRUMP: Yeah, I think they’d be making a big mistake doing that.
TIME: Are you considering more military action?
TRUMP: I wouldn’t say that. I can’t say that at all. It would be inappropriate. But they would be making a big mistake if they enriched.
TIME: Are they calling your bluff on this or how do you see it?
TRUMP: Time will tell. Only time will tell.
TIME: I mean in your campaign, you promised to get the U.S. out of unnecessary foreign wars. With your —
TRUMP: That’s true. Well I have. We defeated ISIS, the caliphate. We’ve taken back the caliphate. That doesn’t mean one of the crazies doesn’t walk into a store all bombed up. But we’ve taken back 100%. I wish I could show you the maps of what it was before and what it was after. Sarah, maybe you could ask somebody to bring me those maps. The — ISIS, when I got there, and ISIS when I left. Right now, there is no ISIS. ISIS has — the entire caliphate is down. Remember when it was 99% gone and I started moving people out. They said “He didn’t finish the job.” Anyway, so —
TIME: With this confrontation with Iran, I mean, are you watching another —
TRUMP: Well — look — I also said Iran is not going to have a nuclear weapon, you know, which is very important. As you know in Afghanistan, when I got there, it was 16,000 people. It’s now 9,000 people. And some good things are happening there frankly. No, I’d like to get out of the Middle East, we should have never been in the Middle East. We should have never been there, and I’d like to get out.
TIME: It does look as if you’re getting drawn in rather than pulled out, especially with regard to the tankers. Are you concerned about Iran’s attacks as —
TRUMP: Well, one of the things that seems to be rather ridiculous — also, Shea, do me a favor. Will you get the information I had yesterday — the people that benefit from the Straits. The companies, countries that benefit from the Straits. Just — I want to show you something. China gets 60% of their oil there. Japan 25% of their oil. So many of the other places get such vast amounts of oil there. We get very little. You know, we have made tremendous progress in the last 2-1/2 years in energy, and when the pipelines get built, we’re now an exporter of energy. So we’re not in the position that we were in, that we used to be in in the Middle East where we needed — you know we were there — some people would say we were there for the oil.
TIME: So does that mean that strategically you would go to war over nuclear weapons but not over passage through the Strait of Hormuz?
TRUMP: Well, I wouldn’t even want to say that, but I would certainly go over nuclear weapons, and I would keep the other a question mark. Shea? Ask them to bring in the documents I saw yesterday.
TIME: How much of the challenge—
TRUMP: [to an aide] I’m talking about through the Straits. The oil that comes in by country. I had it yesterday. Who would have it? Maybe Bolton would have it, or somebody
Which is a pretty shocking thing. You look at China, it’s a big beneficiary — they don’t pay anything. Japan is a big beneficiary, they don’t pay anything. Many other countries, they don’t pay anything. Indonesia. Many other countries come, they don’t pay anything. And we’re there keeping the world as, you know, we’re there keeping the oil flowing. Right? And the amazing thing is we’re now an exporter, so in theory, we’re a beneficiary of oil problems. But I don’t view it that way.
TIME: Do you believe the evidence the intelligence community is — says that shows Iran is launching attacks on oil tankers?
TRUMP: Well, I don’t think too many people don’t believe it. I think people say they don’t believe it because they don’t want to get drawn in. But they don’t, they don’t, uh, they don’t believe it.
TIME: Is it proving challenging — it sounds as if from your description of the other countries, as if you’re finding it challenging to get other countries to help the U.S. apply pressure
TRUMP: Well, we’re just starting that process, but other countries are a bigger beneficiary of that part of the world now than we are. Far bigger.
TIME: Do you think there’s a credibility problem in trying to get them on board, both because of Iraq intelligence, but also because of your own criticisms of the U.S. intelligence community over the years?
TRUMP: No, I don’t think we have any problems. I have a good group of people now. I have people that I want. And we have some terrific people, and no, that’s not a problem. But what is a problem is that the United States takes care of the world, and the world doesn’t take care of the world. The world doesn’t want to take care of itself. There are some countries, as an example that benefit greatly, and they’re rich countries. These are very rich countries in some cases, and they don’t make contributions, and they haven’t for many, many years. And at some point — you know, look, I’ve done a lot about that. If you look at NATO, if you call up Secretary General Stoltenberg, you’ll see that, he said over $100 billion has been contributed over the last very short period of time by other countries who were not living up to their 2% commitment and the 2% should be more than 2%, by the way. And over $100 billion has been paid, and if you look at a chart of NATO, it’s gone, go back 15 years, it’s gone literally, the contribution, down here, and then it went up like this when I became — And I told them, I said, ‘Look, the United States cannot continue to be—’ I mean, they’re not paying. They’re literally not paying. We’re protecting nations, and they’re not paying, and it was very unfair. But Secretary General Stoltenberg was terrific. He tells it like it is. Big difference.
TIME: A criticism on the other side of that is that — to use the word your critics use — the “confrontational” approach to Europe is now costing you in the attempt to put pressure on Iran because they’re less willing to believe you and feel less aligned.
TRUMP: No. Europe looks at me as a double — I guess first of all, my relationships with Europe are very good. You saw that with my recent trip to — number of trips, frankly — but my recent trip with France, where Normandy was a tremendous and beautiful thing to behold. It really was incredible. But I have very good relationships in Europe. The Prime Minister of U.K., the Queen of England — we had a great time. We had a great time. We have very good relationships in Europe. I would say our relationships are far better now than under the Obama Administration, but they respect us more because they got away with things that were very unfair. Like as an example, Europe, the European nations, if you look at what’s happening on trade. O.K., it was really unfair what’s been happening on trade. They, we lost, over the years, on average, $150 billion a year on trade with the European — as a group — the European nations. It’s very unfair. Then on top of it, we protect them, from NATO, in the form of NATO. And NATO, if you take a look at it, NATO probably, a lot of people would dispute this number, but we were paying 70 to 80% of NATO. That’s unfair.
TIME: So just continuing on this idea of America’s role on the world stage, what is your message to the demonstrators in Hong Kong right now?
TRUMP: Well, look, my message is that they’re obviously having a big impact, because it’s been pulled back and it will be pulled back further. And I think that they’ve been very effective in their dealings with China. By the way, I have a very good relationship with China, just that they’ve treated us unfairly with respect to trade for many years. Since the WTO, we’ve been treated unfairly. We’ve helped create China. I give them a lot of credit, but we’ve helped create China. You look at what’s happened over the last period of time, and China wants to make a deal. They actually had a deal with us. We were very close to having a deal, and then they pulled back on three major points that were just unacceptable to me. So I’m very happy now collecting 25% on $250 billion, which is what we’re doing. But China wants to make a deal, and I don’t blame them, because companies are leaving China by the hundreds because they don’t want to pay the tariffs. So China’s going to want to make a deal.
TIME: Do you support the demands of the protesters against the extradition bill?
TRUMP: Well, I’ll tell you what, I’m going to let the protesters speak for themselves. I have our own argument with China, and I think it’s going to work out successfully, but I’m going to let China and the protesters work out their own problem. It looks like it’s going to be worked out.
TIME: A lot of Republicans were critical of President Obama when he wasn’t, by their account, sufficiently supportive of protesters in Iran after the election in 2010. Are you taking a similarly Realpolitik view?
TRUMP: No, I would view it differently. I would view the Iran situation differently. I think that things could have happened, that Iran would have been a much different country today. When I took over Iran — when I took over as President, when I became President and then took over Jan. 20, Iran was a much different country 2-1/2 years ago. They were unbelievably hostile. They were truly a nation of terror. They were all over the place. We had 14 points of confliction, and they were behind every single one of them. Now it’s a different country. They have tremendous problems, problems that nobody would have ever thought they had. And that was not a time to make the deal, the deal that President Obama made. That was a horrible deal. So I terminated that deal, did other things including sanctions, and Iran wants to make a deal also. I will tell you right now. They don’t talk [about] it, although sometimes they do. But Iran wants to make a deal, and it’s the smartest thing they could do, is to make a deal.
TIME: Have you gotten any messages from Iran?
TRUMP: [President asks to go off-the-record]
TRUMP: Look — when I first — One of the first meetings I had was with the Pentagon, and we were talking about the Middle East, which I was always against going in. You know people always like to say, “Oh, maybe he was too —” I wasn’t. I was always, I was against going into Iraq. It was a terrible… going into the Middle East was a terrible decision. We’re into the Middle East for $7 trillion. Many lives, and if you look at both sides, you know, unbelievable numbers of lives — because I look at both sides, I don’t just look at the one side. I look at both sides. It was a terrible decision to go in. It’s quicksand. Always has been, always will be. And we’re doing just fine. We did ISIS. We’re doing fine in terms of Afghanistan. We’re down to half — we’ll soon be down to about 8,000 soldiers.
TIME: Are you going into direct talks with Iran and what would you ask for? What do you want?
TRUMP: Well, you know, I’m open whenever they’re ready. Let’s see, we have a long way to go before we get there, but I’m open when they’re ready. But if you remember, sometimes it’s hard to place yourself back in time, but if you go back 2-1/2 years, we had an absolute disaster going on. It was — Iran was causing problems like nobody’ —
TIME: But how do you explain the current attacks against shipping, and as Pompeo laid out, allegedly —
TRUMP: Well, so far, it’s been very minor. And so far, if you look at the rhetoric now compared to the days when they were signing that agreement, where it was always, “Death to America, death to America, we will destroy America, we will kill America.” I’m not hearing that too much any more, and I don’t expect to, by the way. I don’t expect to. A lot difference. Rhetorically you understand.
TRUMP: Look at when they were signing the agreement, they were all screaming death to America as they’re signing the agreement? What’s that all about? They picked up the seven sailors, and the only reason the sailors — the 10 sailors — the only reason the sailors were let go is that we started making massive payments to them the following day. Otherwise the sailors would still be there under President Obama.
TIME: I want to talk about some of the big themes of your campaign. I’ve been to a lot of your rallies, here are signs that say “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” At the current rate, it’s very unlikely that your wall will be built by the time Election Day comes around.
TRUMP: No, we’ll have — we’ll have, over 400, We’re building the wall right now. People don’t understand. We are building the wall right now. It is under major construction.
TIME: There’s 654 miles, you have 61 miles—
TRUMP: Well, there’s 550 miles. 550 is max.
TIME: —of fencing and barriers—
TRUMP: And we will have over 450 miles built by the end of next year. We’re also renovating tremendous amounts of wall. We’re renovating and fixing. We’re putting — areas that didn’t have wall, we’re putting temporary walls in. We’re doing a great job, and the job we did with Mexico, nobody could even believe.
TIME: Why are the numbers of people coming across now at a 13-year high then?
TRUMP: Because they’re trying to come in because the economy is so good. We have 3.5% unemployment. The economy is — you could make the case it’s never been stronger than it is now, and the people are trying to come up for the economy. They’re not coming up for asylum. They’re coming up for money.
TIME: Either way, I mean you can’t expect us — as a policy matter to make our economy bad to stop them from coming.
TRUMP: No, no, I’m not going to make it bad. I’m just saying it wasn’t good. The economy wasn’t very good, and it was weak under President Obama. Now it’s the strongest economy we’ve probably ever had.
TIME: So how do you deliver on the promise?
TRUMP: Even look at the First Quarter, we’re at 3.2%. Nobody expected that. They thought it would be one — you know, the First Quarter is always very low. We’re at 3.2%. The economy is so strong that people are coming up. Now what I did with Mexico is, Mexico — I don’t know if you’ve seen, but the numbers are way down since they started last week, and they haven’t even — they’re putting their — they’re starting to move the 6,000 soldiers in tomorrow.
And I think they’re working very hard.
[President asks to go off-the-record]
TIME: Would you consider reinstating the family separation policy?
TRUMP: So let me tell you about that. It’s very interesting. President Obama had separation. I’m the one that brought it together. I was the one, and what that did is it made more people come up because I didn’t like separation any more than you did. But if you look at those cells, where they were showing all these cells, they looked like jail cells or cyclone fence — but they look like jail cells. They were built in 2014 by Obama. I think you people had one of those pictures actually. You said look at these cells. It turned out they were built by Obama. They were built by people that I know very well. People that want to come into the Administration. But if you look at the separation policy, I had that policy, and then I’m the one that put the families back together. When you put the families back together, you have more families come up. It’s a very simple …
TIME: On your watch, sir —
TRUMP: No, but you understand what I’m saying.
TIME: Yeah, there were —
TRUMP: I inherited separation.
TIME: On your watch, there were families whose parents were separated from the children. They were deported. The children were left behind. And the agencies —
TRUMP: Well, they had that under Obama’s watch, too.
TIME: And the agencies didn’t keep good records, and have had a hard time reuniting —
TRUMP: Many of those records were Obama records, and they had separation and they had the exact same thing during the Obama years. The difference is because our economy is so strong, more people came up. Plus, they learned how weak our laws are. Now the laws, hopefully, are going to be changed. But they learned how weak the laws are. But you know, if Mexico does the job, they have very strong policy; they have very strong immigration policy. If Mexico does the job, there should be very few people coming up through Mexico. And Mexico can do the job. And I believe they will do the job, but if they don’t do the job, we’re going to put tariffs on, and they understand that, and the tariffs are very significant.
TIME: What other measures are you considering if the numbers continue to grow?
TRUMP: I don’t think they will continue to grow. I think they’re starting to go down now.
TIME: Do you know how many [immigrant] kids were separated from their parents under your — Administration. Do you have a number?
TRUMP: Well, they have lists. They have very accurate lists actually. But you have to understand, they were separated with President Obama. They were separated with President Bush. I didn’t change the policy, and the policy had been changed, it was — I’m the one that ended separation. Just so we understand. And when we ended separation, and I was not surprised to see this, more families came up because now they’re not going to be separated.
TIME: So would you consider reinstating [the policy]?
TRUMP: I don’t know, I don’t like it, I don’t like the concept of separation. I’d rather keep them from coming up, it would be a lot easier because I don’t like it. But I’m — it’s crazy. I got such a bad rap on that. I inherited separation.
TIME: But it was the enforcement —
TRUMP: You do know this, right Sarah?
SANDERS: Yes, sir.
TRUMP: These were the laws, President Bush had them, President Obama had them. I had them. And when I had them, everybody went wild about separation, nobody talked about separation before. But Obama, President Obama is the one that built the jail cells, as they called them, and they said “Look at these cells, isn’t this terrible?” I said, wait a minute — and we didn’t know that, and then they stepped forward — those pictures were perhaps in your magazine in 2014. That was long before I became President.
All of those cells were built in 2014, and before. And they made it sound like I did it. Look, just so we understand, separation has been there for a long time. When I got there, I ended separation. I knew what would happen. More people would come up, but I didn’t like the concept of separation. It was bad. Now what we’re doing, if this works with Mexico, there will be a trem—. Look, they’re putting 6,000 soldiers on their southern border. That’s a game-changer.
We are now bringing people back into Mexico.
[President asks to go off-the-record]
TIME: It does feel to me a little bit, Mr. President, as if you feel you’re vulnerable on immigration in 2020?
TRUMP: No, I don’t. I think I’m good. I think they’re vulnerable. No, I think the Democrats are totally vulnerable. I think we’re doing a great job on immigration.
TIME: Do you sense that your supporters who voted for you and heard about how you’re going to crack down on immigration and reduce illegal flows are disappointed?
TRUMP: Look, I’m building a wall despite the fact that the Democrats don’t want a wall built. They have fought every — we just won a lawsuit on the wall. I don’t know if you saw that, a big one, a very important one, against Nancy Pelosi in the House. They sued us, and we won a lawsuit last week, a very big one. We’re building a wall, the wall is going up as we speak. We’ve already renovated vast amounts of wall, taking inferior product and making it very good, very strong. We had walls, we built walls in San Diego.
TIME: Painting and barbed wire on many sections, sir, but —
TRUMP: No, no, we fixed walls, and in some cases, we have added massive amounts of barbed wire because the walls were not effective the way they were. And we used the walls as a structure for the barbed wire, and now that the barbed wire is up, nobody is coming across. They can’t come across. The walls have become very effective, and they were very ineffective before. You could climb them, you can’t climb them now. But we’re also building large numbers of new wall. If you want, I can get the Army Corps of Engineers to tell you exactly what we’re building, but we’re building — we will have over 400 miles of wall built by the end of next year.
TIME: The money isn’t coming from Congress —
TRUMP: And that’s despite the — no, that’s right. That’s despite. We’re taking some from the military. We’re taking some from the drug enforcement. We’re taking — we have different pockets where we’re taking it.
TIME: On North Korea, sir, the remains —
TRUMP: North Korea?
TIME: On North Korea, the remains have stopped coming back. The Pentagon is no longer in discussions with the North Koreans about the remains.
TRUMP: But they will be. Look, we’ve gotten remains back. That will start up again. We have gotten our prisoners back. We had four prisoners, got them back.
[President asks to go off-the-record]
TRUMP: We got our prisoners back. We don’t have nuclear testing. We don’t have any testing, we don’t have — other than short-range missiles, which they did a couple of like every other countries test short-term, these were standard short-term missiles — there are no ballistic missiles being tested. There’s no nuclear tests, and we have a very good relationship.
TIME: Are you in talks —
TRUMP: Uh, yeah. Will you show me that letter, the birthday letter, do you have it? Get it for me. I’ll show it to you.
TIME: I want to jump, one question back to —
TRUMP: Yes, please.
TIME: — one question back to the border, and then we can go back to North Korea, or other topics. Just to point blank ask you, because May was the highest number of immigrants coming across the border illegally in 13 years —
TRUMP: In 13 years —
TIME: So we’re trying to reconcile the promise of, versus the reality —
TRUMP: O.K., here — I ended separation — which Obama had, which Bush, which everybody had. I ended separation. One thing. But the biggest thing is the economy is so strong, and the Democrats — the only reason we have this is because the Democrats won’t fix the loopholes. The loopholes are terrible, and they won’t fix asylum. We could have them fixed in 15 minutes, but they refused to fix it. The only reason we have a problem at the border — and with that problem comes the fact that people learned about their legal rights on the border — the Democrats could fix the asylum problem and the loophole problem in 15 minutes. If they did that, everything would immediately stop. The border would be 100% secure. Now, when you add Mexico to it, and then you fix — then you really have a great secure situation. But I think Mexico will solve most of the problem by itself. But the Democrats have to fix these asylum problems. I mean we have asylum — we have an asylum situation that is so ridiculous. We’re the only country in the world with the things that we have to do, and the Democrats could easily fix it, but they want open borders — which means crimes, it means drugs.
TIME: The promise was that Mexico was going to pay for the wall.
[President asks to go off-the-record]
TRUMP: This isn’t over. This is a negotiation. Don’t underestimate the fact, and the other thing is in the trade deal, which assuming it gets approved, Mexico’s paying hundreds of billions of dollars over a period of time more than they were paying previously. I mean can that count for a wall that’s a fraction of the numbers you’re talking about? You know, in the U.S.M.C.A. That deal is .. .in other words, that deal is much more lucrative for the United States than NAFTA.
Here’s the ISIS maps. You probably have to look at them together. So, here, I’ll show you. That’s where I took over. That was halfway through. And this is like now, or something, yep.
TIME: Try to go in order here.
TRUMP: That would be pretty impressive. I assume you want them; I assume you’re going to put that in your front page. So this is ISIS —
TIME: We’ve run this graphic — we’ve run it practically every week, Mr. President.
TRUMP: Have you seen this? No, seriously.
TIME: I have seen it, yes.
TRUMP: But here you have nothing. The caliphate is gone. This doesn’t mean you don’t have crazy people around that, you know? And bombs — I’m not saying any fighting is finished because with these people, you never know. They’re totally — they’re stone-cold crazy. But there’s ISIS. There it is a year later. And there it is now. Not bad. Not bad. Not bad —
TIME: Jumping back to the campaign —
TRUMP: I hope you’re going to write it. Do you want to keep them? Can we give them?
SANDERS: Yeah, they can keep them.
TRUMP: Do you want something to drink, folks?
TIME: Sure. Thank you, sir.
SANDERS: We’ve got a few more minutes.
TRUMP: That’s all right, let them have it. If we do, maybe I’ll get my first good cover of TIME since I got elected. The first story was great. The first story, when I won the election, that was written by a gentleman with like a French name.
TIME: Michael Scherer?
TIME: David Von Drehle?
TRUMP: No. French. Is there like a French name?
Read More: The Making of President Donald Trump
TIME: Do you bet? I have forgotten whether you bet or not?
TRUMP: Do I bet?
TRUMP: My whole life is a bet.
TIME: Do you have a bet for who will be the Democratic candidate?
TRUMP: Well, I don’t have a bet. I think that Biden is not the same Biden. Something’s going on there. O.K.? I would say that probably a progressive wins. Look, when a progressive gets out, another progressive is going to take 100% of the vote, so it’s —
TIME: Meaning, if, Bernie drops, Warren picks it up?
TRUMP: Well, yeah, I think they pick up close to 100%. I think they pick up much of that vote. I think that Harris has not surged, as they say. I think that Bernie is going in the wrong direction. I think Biden is going in the wrong direction. He’s dropped a lot. He’s come down a lot. If you look at our friend Pocahontas, she is doing pretty well. She’s doing pretty well. They forgot that she’s a fraud. She’s doing … you know she’s the one that’s doing, it seems, the best in terms of that. I don’t believe Mayor Pete has a chance, I never did. I don’t see it.
TIME: Why is that?
TRUMP: Here’s a letter, O.K., now I’m going to show you this letter. So this was written by Kim Jong-un. It was delivered to me yesterday. By hand.
[President asks to go off-the-record]
TIME: And why don’t you think Mayor Pete has a chance, while we look —
TRUMP: I just don’t feel it.
TIME: Is there a candidate — ?
TIME: It’s all instinct when you get into politics — politics is all instinct. Right?
TIME: Who do you think your toughest opponent would be?
SANDERS: You can’t take a picture of that, sorry.
TRUMP: What was that?!
TIME: So, who do you think your toughest opponent would be in the general?
TRUMP: Uh — I don’t know. Look, I think I’ve done so much. Could you bring the list of things, please, give me four of them.
I’ve done more in 2-1/2 years than any President in the history of this country. And when you look at the things … I’m going to give you a list. Nobody’s approved what we’ve approved; nobody’s gotten through. Whether it’s the Vets and Choice, and accountability. Both two things you could never get approved. They could never get them approved. You look at the tax cuts, you look at ANWR. You look at the individual mandate. I’ve had a lot to do with healthcare. You look at right-to-try. Add right-to-try with the individual mandate.
TIME: What is the individual mandate?
TRUMP: The individual mandate of Obamacare. We ended it. That’s where you had to pay for —
TIME: Yeah, right.
TRUMP: You had to pay not to pay for insurance — to pay a fortune for the privilege of not paying. One of the most unpopular part. We’ll get great healthcare after — if we win back the House. And keep the Senate. Keep the presidency.
TIME: Here’s a list. We just made a — this is relatively new, right?
AIDE: It’s for today.
TRUMP: That’s pretty new. Here’s a list of the things, each spot, each line is another thing. Nobody has done this. These are all between bills and things. I’d like you to keep it. Take a look.
TIME: Your own campaign polling is showing a disconnect; people who are feeling the benefits of the economy but not giving you credit. Is there a way you…
TRUMP: I agree with that. I don’t think — I think I’m getting credit, but I’m not getting the full credit. If the Democrats had won the 2016 race, instead of being up 3.1%, I think it would be down 5%. I think we would actually be down because what — what I — I had the largest cut in regulations in the history of the country. In two years, I cut more regulations than any other President, no matter how long their term was. That was a big factor in terms of what’s happened with the country, with the thing. With the whole — with the whole success that we’ve had. If the Democrats got in, they wouldn’t have done that and they would have put more regulation on, and you would have been in — you would have seen a real mess. Here’s that. Do you see what I’m saying with that letter? It’s pretty good, right? I mean this is pretty good.
TIME: At the same time that he’s launching short-range missiles —
TRUMP: Short-range, extremely short-range. And no different than anyone else tests and launches, et cetera. Can I have that letter back you have?
TIME: We have the bullet points.
TIME: Going back to kind of a health care question. Do you support the Alabama abortion law that was recently passed?
TRUMP: I — I’m — I have the exceptions, and I’ve always been for the exceptions, and I think that’s very important.
TIME: What about fetal heartbeat bills, like in Georgia, which do have those exceptions?
TRUMP: We’re studying it all. I mean, it’s a very evolving topic, but I am for exceptions.
TIME: — Even when it bans — at six weeks —
TRUMP: — It has to be that way — I have been very strong on that.
SANDERS: Guys, we have time for maybe one or two more questions.
TRUMP: Go ahead.
TIME: I have some Mueller questions. Sir, your former Chief of Staff, White House Counsel, Deputy Campaign Chairman, Deputy National Security Advisor, Staff Secretary, Communications Director, among others — all testified under oath, at risk of prison time, that in the words of the Mueller Report, you tried to “influence” and “control” the Mueller investigation.
TRUMP: I don’t think they did that —
TIME: They did. I can give you the citations, sir, I have them right here.
TRUMP: I don’t think they — I don’t think they did that. And frankly, I could have ended that — Mueller — immediately under Article II, if I wanted to. Article II, we don’t even talk about Article II because there’s no reason to talk about it. But I could have ended Mueller immediately. I could have done that, I decided not to do that. I had the power to do it if I wanted to do it. So there has never been a President that’s been as transparent as I’ve been. 1.5 million pages of documents. I gave… 300 or 500 people, testified. I allowed many people, including White House counsel, to testify. Hundreds of subpoenas, in fact, I think thousands of subpoenas I said — I didn’t exert presidential prerogative. I didn’t use presidential prerogative in any way, shape or form.
TIME: You did try to limit Mueller’s Russia probe to only future election meddling. Why did you do that?
TRUMP: Let me tell you this. I could have ended the whole thing very quickly. Very easily. I said let it play out, and the bottom line was no collusion, and subject to a review of the documents, no obstruction by the Attorney General. After he reviewed the documents, he found no obstruction. That result has driven the Democrats crazy, crazy. These people have gone absolutely insane.
TIME: For the record, sir, the report does say this report “does not exonerate” you.
TRUMP: On obstruction. You mean on a no-crime. You mean there was no crime. So there was no crime taken and —
TIME: Everybody knows that you can obstruct justice without there being an underlying crime —
TRUMP: Well, here’s what I don’t — I’ll go a step further. It was a crime committed by the other side. Not only was there no crime on my side, and he found no collusion and he found no conspiracy, right, do you agree with that? No conspiracy, no collusion, no nothing?
TIME: But he found multiple examples of members of your staff interacting with the Russians —
TRUMP: No, and he also … excuse me … what did he say? He said, in fact, there was pushback. He said they pushed back. Our staff pushed back.
TIME: Some people did, some people didn’t. But the point is, Mr. President —
TRUMP: No, no, no — he said there was pushback.
TIME: — the American people had a right to know what Russia was trying to do to the core exercise of their democracy, and that’s what the Russia probe was about. You attempted to influence and control it.
TRUMP: President Obama in September was told by the FBI about Russia. He did nothing. Hillary Clinton went out and paid a man who went to Russia and used Russians and paid Russians. They did nothing. A lot of the bloggers that you read about, O.K.? You read about these bloggers. They were on Hillary’s side and Trump’s side. The so-called — was it 24 numerous — And you’re talking about — she spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising and Facebook and everything else.
TIME: But didn’t the American people —
TRUMP: They spent a tiny amount of money — just so you understand, and as the report makes very clear, there was no collusion, there was no conspiracy —
TIME: But why would you try to limit the investigation only —
TRUMP: I didn’t limit the investigation.
TIME: You dictated a letter —
TRUMP: Excuse me —
TIME: — to Corey Lewandowski telling him to tell [former Attorney General Jeff] Sessions to limit the investigation [to future Russia meddling] —
TRUMP: I could have told Sessions myself if I wanted to. Under Section II —
TIME: He testified under oath —
TRUMP: Excuse me —
TIME: — under threat of prison time, that that was the case Mr. President.
TRUMP: Excuse me — Under Section II — Well, you can go to prison instead, because, if you use, if you use the photograph you took of the letter that I gave you —
TIME: Do you believe that people should be —
TRUMP: confidentially, I didn’t give it to you to take photographs of it — So don’t play that game with me. Let me just tell you something. You take a look —
TIME: I’m sorry, Mr. President. Were you threatening me with prison time?
TRUMP: Well, I told you the following. I told you you can look at this off-the-record. That doesn’t mean you take out your camera and start taking pictures of it. O.K.? So I hope you don’t have a picture of it. I know you were very quick to pull it out — even you were surprised to see that. You can’t do that stuff. So go have fun with your story. Because I’m sure it will be the 28th horrible story I have in TIME Magazine because I never — I mean — ha. It’s incredible. With all I’ve done and the success I’ve had, the way that TIME Magazine writes is absolutely incredible.
Tell them five seconds.
TRUMP: With all I’ve done, with the tremendous success I’ve had, that TIME Magazine writes about me the way they write is a disgrace, O.K.? Let’s face it, it’s a disgrace. And some day within the next 20 years, maybe you’ll pick me as Man of the Year. O.K., big deal. But with all that we’ve said, now — go back to the Mueller Report. You have 18 people who hated Donald Trump, who were angry Democrats, many of whom supported the Democratic Party financially. Right? You have Bob Mueller who was conflicted, totally conflicted. You know my feeling on that. Comey was his friend. I had a nasty business dispute with him when he was in private life. A very nasty business dispute. Right? You know about that, right?
TIME: If you want to provide us details —
TRUMP: No, I don’t want to provide you details, there’s no reason to. What difference, you won’t write it the way it’s proper anyway. But I had a nasty business dispute with Comey. And you know the other disputes, also we had. And he sat, see that chair you’re in? He was right in that chair, wanting the job to be the FBI Director, and I said no. O.K.? That’s a conflict of interest. Despite that, he said no collusion. First chapter. No collusion. No conspiracy. Push back. Push back. So now they have a phony crime and they say I tried to obstruct a phony crime. But you see, but I didn’t. I didn’t. And more importantly, under Article II, I could have done whatever I wanted. I could have fired Mueller if I wanted, but I didn’t, because if anybody checked out Richard Nixon, that didn’t work out so well. Alright? But I could have — I could have fired — I had the right under Article II to fire Robert, but I didn’t. And I didn’t want to. I figured, let him finish his report. Let’s see. The report came out, no collusion. Collusion being the biggest thing, meaning conspiracy. Or whatever they want to call it. And the report was very clear on that. And remember, take a look — there was actually in fact push back, do you agree with that, Sarah? They actually had push back from our people. Not only didn’t they accept, but there was push back. And then Phase two, they set up a crime. What about Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails? What about the fact that she paid Christopher Steele for a fake phony dossier — tremendous amounts of money — her and the DNC. If you guys wrote the real story, you’d end up doing very well. You’d end up with Pulitzer Prizes. I’ll tell you there are people that should get Pulitzer Prizes, but they aren’t the ones that got ’em. The ones that got ’em should hand ’em back because they called this thing very wrong.
SANDERS: Maybe one last question, and we’ll wrap here.
TIME: A campaign-related one.
TIME: What are the new goals you want to take up in your second term?
TRUMP: So we’re rebuilding the military, which is creating jobs. We’re doing some really good things in health care. We’re doing some tremendous things in health care. You see what’s happening with some of the policies that we’re coming out with. We got rid of, as I said, we got rid of the individual mandate, which was by far the most popular thing in Obamacare. We’re managing Obamacare much better. But Obamacare is a very — it’s very bad. And if we win, I will do healthcare. If we get the House. If we get back the House — you can’t do it without the House.
If we get the House, we get the Senate, we get the presidency, we will have a great health care plan, we will have tremendous healthcare. But we’re doing a good job on that anyway. Doing a very good job.
Our military is strong. We are withdrawing — if you look from the Middle East end, we may have a problem with Iran. That could happen. A thing like that could happen, absolutely.
But it could also be that things work out. If Iran does the right thing, it would be a very good thing for Iran, but I don’t know that they’ll do the right thing. I have a feeling they probably will.
TIME: Your ability to be in the middle of the news is seen as a big asset for the campaign. They are running Facebook ads; whenever you have a big news cycle they will generate…
TRUMP: Right, right —
TIME: Like when you said you were going to close the deal with Mexico — Are you able to coordinate, have you been talking with the campaign about what issues resonate —
TRUMP: Sure. I am. We all have our meetings. But I generally do my own thing. Like for instance, they had the Stephanopoulos interview, and I said, you know, let me watch this, and then it said both things — did you see that? Where I said, yeah, I’d do both.
I said, where’s the dispute here? Where’s the dispute? It was made up by the fake news media. I said I’ll do both. Then I also said I would report them. I’m not talking about the Fox & Friends a day later. I’m talking about just if you go by that interview. But for the most part they didn’t put the “I’ll do — I’d do both.” I said, yeah, I’d do both. Nobody wanted to hear that.
TIME: What would you do if a foreign power launched a propaganda effort to halt a Democratic opponent?
TRUMP: Well, I’ve said, you know what? I’ve answered it so many different ways — I answered it in Stephanopoulos, I answered the same question on Fox. But number one, I don’t think they’d do it with me because they know I love the country —
TIME: [We were] asking about, if there were an effort to help an opponent, the Democrat.
TRUMP: You mean if they helped the opponent?
TRUMP: Look, if this was reversed, where the Republicans did this to a Democrat, every one of them would be in jail for years already. O.K.? If they did — if this was reversed, where I did to them what they did to me, the repercussions would be enormous. The press is protecting the DNC, the Democrats, crooked Hillary. They’re totally protected by the press. They’re partners, let’s face it. They’re partners. Look at TIME Magazine. I read a couple of stories in TIME Magazine that were so bad, it was unbelievable. It was unbelievable.
[President asks to go off-the-record]
TRUMP: Bad coverage, though. I should get good coverage. I built one of the strongest economies, I built probably the strongest economy, certainly one of them, but the strongest. I mean you could go by many — go by unemployment. African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, the strongest they’ve ever had. More people working today, almost 160 million. By far more than we’ve ever had working. You know, you could make the case, this is the greatest economy we’ve ever had. I built that. If Hillary would have gotten in, it would have been decimated. Instead of being at 3.2, we’d be at minus-5 or minus-6. It was going bad. If you look at the numbers from the end of the Obama, it was crashing. It was crashing. And here’s the good news. We have tremendous potential. Maybe it depends to a certain extent on what happens with some trade deals, but we’ve already done the deal with North Korea. It’s totally done, it’s really good. I took a bad deal, I terminated it, and I made it a good deal. Got the 25% on trucks, on small trucks, et cetera, et cetera, which was terminated. Which is frankly very interesting. You ought to look at this sometime. The Chicken Tax. It’s the most successful vehicle built in the automobile industry in America today. I was able to do it. But we did the deal — KORUS —you know, the deal with North Korea — the deal with South Korea. We did pretty much everything I’ve set out to do is either done or on its way to being done. Now, when you look at that list, and you go point by point by point by point, you say does this gentleman ever take it easy?
TIME: There are some political analysts looking at the 2020 election who say your strategy of focusing on base issues makes sense given your politics. There are others who say broadening it to try and reach some of the voters who you didn’t get last time and some who you need to try and keep from last time is important. Do you have a strategy to reach out beyond your base?
TRUMP: I’d love to broaden it. I think I have one of the greatest — you know there are those who say I have the greatest base in the history of American politics because it always stays at 45, 46, 47. I mean it’s been — today it’s at 51. Wasn’t Rasmussen 51? 51. And I’ll tell you, you know, Rasmussen — you know — it’s respected — they got the election the best. That’s why I say Rasmussen because they got the election the most right. Los Angeles Times, Rasmussen, and I think it was Business Insider, believe it or not, three polls got it very good. But Rasmussen was good. That’s at 51%. But I have a base of 45, 46% that is a phenomenal base.
TRUMP (to aide): I’ve got it. Thanks. I got it.
TRUMP: I have a base that’s a phenomenal — it’s just a phenomenal base. It’s a very loyal base and I’m loyal to them also. With that being said, the thing that I have that’s different, because based on the economy, I should be up 15 or 20 points higher. It should be, just based on the economy. You know it’s the economy, stupid, right? Based on the economy, I should be at much higher numbers than I am. And the thing that I have that nobody’s ever had before, from the day I came down the escalator, I have had a phony witch hunt against me. And not long after that day, you understand, from the day and you look at the insurance policy by crooked FBI agents, where they talked about the insurance policy just in case Hillary Clinton should lose. The insurance policy. We lived the insurance policy, if that’s what it was.
This was spying on a campaign. This was — what happened to me as President should never happen to another President again. And I’m honored to have gone through it. There are those that say that very few people that they know could have taken it. I spoke with Lindsey Graham. He said, “You know what? There’s not a person I know in the world that could have taken what you’ve taken. And you’ve come out stronger for it.”
But I really believe that there are very few people [who] could have taken it. From Day One, it’s been a phony witch hunt with a phony dossier with phony FISA court — the whole thing was a phony deal. It was a fraud. It was a woman that deleted 33,000 emails after getting a subpoena from Congress, and she had no problem doing it. If I ever deleted one email, if I did one email and deleted it, I’d have nothing but serious, serious problems. It is a partnership between the media and the Democratic Party. And it’s a shame. It’s really a shame. Nobody’s gone through and nobody has been treated as unfairly as Donald Trump. And almost everybody admits that.
TIME: In your estimation, that’s costing you 15 points?
TRUMP: I think it’s cost me — yeah, and it’s phony, and I think that will turn around because it’s been proven to be phony. The whole thing. Impeachment. Impeachment for what? Nothing was done wrong. Impeachment for what?! There was no collusion, nothing was done wrong. You know there are those that say — Alan Dershowitz wrote a piece the other day that it’s illegal to impeach him. There’s nothing done wrong, you can’t impeach
TIME: Do you think impeachment would actually help you, as Pelosi clearly worries?
TRUMP: It might. I mean a lot of people say it would. Most people say it would. I don’t know, I really don’t know. But I think it’s inappropriate, when somebody wins — The only thing I did wrong was winning an election. By winning an election, I made them so angry. I’ll tell you what, winning an election and building a great economy — and by the way, doing all those things on the pages that I gave you.
I mean it’s just — it’s so many different things and nobody ever thought — even ANWR. So ANWR is among the biggest oil finds in the world, in Alaska. Ronald Reagan tried to get it approved, everybody tried to get it approved. Nobody got it approved. I got it approved. They are starting ANWR shortly. I got ANWR approved. It’s as big as Saudi Arabia they say, in Alaska. I got it approved. Nobody else got it approved. Ronald Reagan tried, couldn’t do it. Bush tried. Everybody. Presidents, even Democratic presidents tried. They couldn’t get it approved. I got it approved.
So the only thing I’m guilty of is that I happened to win an election that some people thought I shouldn’t have won. Look, we’re going — I don’t know if anybody’s going tomorrow, but I’m going to an event tomorrow where we have 116,000 people?
SANDERS: I think it’s closer to 120 now.
TRUMP: 120,000 people have requested tickets. We have the big Orlando Basketball Arena, with the floor, it holds 25,000 people. It sold out in the first day. It sold out in the first hour. And we have 120,000 people. I went to Texas to help Ted Cruz. We had 106,000 people. We had to take ads asking people not to come. Tomorrow, what we did is we put big screens up, television screens because the arena is so — these are big arenas. This is the size of Madison Square Garden. I think it’s slightly larger. It’s where the Orlando Magic plays. It is packed. We’ll have thousands and thousands of people outside. O.K., that’s one.
Now Joe Biden, Sleepy Joe, he goes to a high school gymnasium that holds 300 people. And they can’t get 88 people. Or he has 88 people show up. I don’t get it. Where’s the magic? Where’s the magic?
So we’re going to have 25,000 people tomorrow, we’re going to have 120,000 requests for seats. Many of those people, you’ll probably have 20, 30,000 people outside the arena. And Biden goes, he can’t fill up 100 seats! So I think we’re going to do very well.
TIME: Where will you spend most of your time campaigning in the next few months. What states?
TRUMP: Well, look, it starts as of tomorrow. But for the first eight or nine months, it’ll be very, much more limited. Probably one rally every two, three weeks. And then it will get tighter. And then, you know I did six or seven a day toward the end of the campaign.
That was one thing I never — I went to Michigan, we had 32,000 people that final night, right? Hillary was there the day of, the day I was there. I actually bled into the Election Day. I started speaking at 1 o’clock in the morning. We had 32,000 people. She got there four hours earlier, which is primetime, she had 500 people show up.
And then I said why am I going to lose Michigan? And I didn’t. You know? I didn’t. So we have a lot of things going, and I’ll tell you one interesting thing you may focus on. The witch hunt has made our base stronger. It’s made our people more resilient. And the witch hunt has done a lot of things. It’s told — it’s told the story of the dishonesty and a lot of the problems, you know, the swamp. All of the things that we’ve talked about. But I think we have more energy than the Democrats do by far. You don’t hear that as much. I have never seen energy like I see right now.
TIME: Well, traditionally, you have no opponent. The Democrats each have 22. You could reach out some, beyond the base, and maybe get more credit for that economy.
TRUMP: That might happen. No. It might happen. But I think my base is so strong, I’m not sure that I have to do that. But I’d like to do it, just as President, I’d like to do it. Not for political reasons. I’d like to do it as President. The Russian hoax that they’ve put us through has hurt our country, and it’s made our country much more divided than it should have been. If I didn’t have that situation happen, which is totally — and by the way, now we’ve been exonerated by the Mueller Report. Again, these are people that hated Donald Trump. How do you pick all people who are opposed to me? And I still got a great report. Had we not had that, the country would have been much more united than it is. That was a very bad thing for the country. What they did with the phony witch hunt was a very bad thing, and it’s bad now, what they’re doing. You know, when they try to keep — They want a do-over. The Mueller Report was a disaster for the Democrats. They want a do-over.
TIME: It does sound as if you’re wrestling still with it. That it’s very much something that you feel is a political liability or that is something that it’s —
TRUMP: No, I think it’s turned out to be an asset because it’s really energized our base, like I’ve never seen before.
TIME: We learned a lot of detail about how Russia is trying to make contacts with your campaign—
SANDERS: We’re going to have to interrupt here.
TIME: We learned a lot of detail about how Russia was trying to make contact with people around you.
TRUMP: Yeah, but they do with every — maybe they do. And by the way, I would be surprised if it was only Russia —
TIME: Going forward are you ready to do things to prevent that?
TRUMP: I know. But I would be surprised if it’s not China, and if it’s not other countries. I think it’s much more —
TIME: So how do we protect against that if we don’t learn the lessons of the past?
TRUMP: Oh, we do — well, we’ve done things that Obama didn’t do. When the FBI went to Obama in September, and they told him about this, he did nothing because he thought Hillary Clinton was going to win, and he didn’t want to rock the boat.
TIME: Famously, Dianne Feinstein brought a stack of TIME Magazines with Putin on the cover and dropped them on McDonough’s desk in October 2016 to say that something was happening and more needed to be done. So you won’t —
TRUMP: Thank you.
TIME: — so you won’t find disagreement with that.
TRUMP: No. Good. Thank you.
But the truth is, Obama, whatever was going on, Obama knew about it long before I ever heard about it. And he didn’t do anything about it. And then his statement to the President of Russia about, “Hey, I’ll see Vladimir after the election is over.” Look, folks, it’s been a very unfair period of time. But we’ve gone through it. And we’ll do very well. I think we’re going to do very well in the election.
I think we’re going to have a big success. And if I win it again, I might even make the TIME Magazine cover again. Maybe. I doubt it. But maybe. You know.
TIME: So you have a good shot this Thursday, for a start.
TIME: We come out on Thursday.
TRUMP: Oh, do you come out on Thursday?
[President asks to go off-the-record]
TRUMP: Anyway, thank you all very much.
TIME: Thank you.
TIME: Thank you, Mr. President.
TIME: Thank you very much.
TIME: Thanks for your time.
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