Pretty much any political journalist would jump at the chance to interview Donald Trump. He’s the most controversial and consequential figure in American politics today. You can’t possibly ignore him.
But any self-respecting political journalist would do it to confront him with his lies, rather than to let him effortlessly spread yet more of them. (I’ve been making this point for at least six years, to no avail.)
Kristen Welker did the latter, of course, in her now-infamous interview with Trump on the occasion of her ascension to the “Meet the Press” anchor chair. It has already been widely panned.
But anyone surprised at how obsequious Welker was shouldn’t have been. To get an interview with Trump you have to beg for it. It’s a reward. And that inevitably comes with strings attached — implicit and explicit.
Welker probably still considers it a win. She got a ton of attention, probably got a ratings boost, and has a good shot of getting another Trump interview some day — which she wouldn’t have if she had actually served as the reality check he so badly needs.
Unlike CNN’s debacle “town hall” with Trump in May, there was no ravening pro-Trump studio audience, and it wasn’t live, so that’s better. But when it came to normalizing a profoundly abnormal candidate – an insurrectionist, an epic liar, a fantasist and a predator – this was worse.
A pretaped sit-down interview is precisely the right format to debunk Trump to his face, but Welker barely even tried.
So, here’s the transcript of Sunday’s “Meet the Press” – with something extra added in: What I would have said if Welker had let me tag along. (I would also have encouraged her to cut him off way more often.)
WELKER: When you talk about retribution, are you talking about directing your attorney general to try to go after your political enemies?
TRUMP: When I talk about retribution, I’m talking about fairness. We have to treat people fairly. These people on January 6th, they went – some of them never even went into the building, and they’re being given sentences of, you know, many years.
ME: Please name me one person who you think was treated unfairly and explain how.
WELKER: Are you going to pardon those people –
TRUMP: And nothing is happening.
WELKER: – who’ve been convicted –
TRUMP: Well, I’m going to look at them, and I certainly might if I think it’s appropriate. No, it’s a very, very sad thing. And it’s – they’re dividing the country so badly, and it’s very dangerous.
ME: Do you recognize that the January 6 attack on the Capitol was a profoundly divisive act? Do you take any responsibility for what happened that day?
WELKER: Well, Mr. President, we’re going to delve into that a little bit later on, but I want to stay on this idea of what you mean by retribution. Are you looking to appoint an attorney general who will prosecute the people you tell them to prosecute?
ME: To be clear, that would be a complete abandonment of the rule of law.
TRUMP: I’m looking to appoint an attorney general who’s going to be tough on crime and fair. Very simple.
WELKER: Speaker McCarthy announced that he was launching an impeachment inquiry this week into President Biden. Do you see this as a part of the retribution that you seek?
TRUMP: No, not at all. I think, look, you look at the terrible things that have been happening with respect to Biden. Look at everything: Jamie Comer, Jim Jordan, who are fantastic people and very legitimate people. I watched Jamie Comer just a little while ago talking about a lot of different facets of what’s going on, and he was the one that said, “I guess there were – there were 12 things where it looks like it’s stone-cold guilty, and the gun charge is only one of the 12.” He said, “This is the only one that doesn’t implicate Joe Biden.”
ME: Well, I can’t leave that hanging. What evidence do you think actually exists that implicates Joe Biden? Because as far as impartial observers are concerned, there is none. None.
WELKER: So, but my question for you: Did you talk to Speaker McCarthy about this House impeachment inquiry?
TRUMP: No, no. I don’t talk to him like that.
ME: You don’t have to, right? You’ve got a bunch of loyalists holding him hostage.
WELKER: Did you tell him that he should open a House impeachment inquiry?
TRUMP: No, no. I don’t do that. I don’t think he’d do that. I mean, he wouldn’t do it based on me, no.
WELKER: Did you talk to your Republican allies on Capitol Hill and say, “You should support this impeachment inquiry”?
TRUMP: No, I don’t have to talk – they’re more proactive than I am. They think it’s terrible.
ME: You had dinner on Sunday with Marjorie Taylor Greene. Are you telling me impeachment never came up?
WELKER: Do you think Republican hardliners should abandon their threat to shut down the government over their spending priorities now that there is this impeachment inquiry?
TRUMP: No. I think if they don’t get a fair deal – we have to save our country. We have $35 trillion in debt. We have to save our country. You know, the –
WELKER: So, you would shut down the government? You’d support that?
TRUMP: I’d shut down the government if they can’t make an appropriate deal, absolutely.
ME: What exactly is an appropriate deal? You are the de facto leader of the Republican Party. Under what precise circumstances will you encourage your party to shut down the government, doing incredible damage to the national and world economy? Do you oppose a continuing resolution? Would you insist on an end to funding for Ukraine? Would you insist on restarting construction of a wall? Are any of those really sufficient reasons to jeopardize the economy?
WELKER: You are facing four indictments, 91 felony charges.
TRUMP: If you would say it properly, I’m facing four Biden indictments. He told the Justice Department to indict him, or Merrick Garland said, “Let’s indict him.”
ME: That’s not true. You were indicted twice by a federal special prosecutor and twice by local prosecutors, in New York and Georgia. Unbiased legal experts say the evidence of your crimes is so massive and, in most cases, so public, that prosecutors really had no choice.
WELKER: Let me ask you this, Mr. President –
TRUMP: They indicted their political opponent –
WELKER: I just want to hear from you on this. I want to know what’s in your head. When you go to bed at night, do you worry about going to jail?
TRUMP: No, I don’t really. I don’t even think about it. I’m built a little differently I guess, because I have had people come up to me and say, “How do you do it, sir? How do you do it?” I don’t even think about it. These are corrupt people that I’m dealing with. They’re destroying our country. I don’t even think about it. All I think about is making the country great, making America great. Look, these are political, these are banana republic indictments. These are third-world indictments. The president of the United States sees how we’re doing. We have a movement the likes of which has never happened in this country before. And you see it with the polls. I mean, I’m up on these people by 60 points and 59 points. And, I don’t mean I’m at 59, I’m leading them by 59. You almost say, like, “Why are they campaigning?” Asa Hutchinson, he’s at zero. Christie’s at two. Other ones are at one. DeSanctimonious is at nine. I just see a poll come – I mean, I’m leading him by 60 points.
ME: Stop already. Do you realize we were talking about the chance of you going to jail, and you started taking shots at your Republican political opponents? Explain your train of thought there, please.
WELKER: Mr. President –
TRUMP: And you say, “Why are they doing that?” But here’s what they did. They saw this happening, and he went to the attorney general of the United States, and he told them, “Indict Trump.”
WELKER: There is just no evidence of that, Mr. President –
ME: It’s also not how things work at the Justice Department, at least not normally.
TRUMP: Oh why? Because you mean he’s honest –
WELKER: But let’s, let’s stay on track –
TRUMP: Look at all the lies he’s told–
WELKER: But Mr. President, I want to talk about you.
TRUMP: Kristen, wait a minute, wait, wait. Could I say one thing? Look at all the lies he’s told over the last couple of weeks. He said he was at the World Trade Center and he wasn’t. He said he flew airplanes, right? He didn’t. He said he drove trucks, and he didn’t. Everything he says is, like, a lie. It’s terrible.
ME: I’m sorry, the lies that Biden has told? You, by a conservative estimate, lied approximately 30,000 times during your presidency. Has Biden ever lied about anything substantive?
WELKER: Mr. President, I want –
TRUMP: Even his handicap in golf, he said he’s a six –
WELKER: I want to stick –
TRUMP: He’s not a six.
WELKER: I want to stay focused on you, for the purposes of this interview –
WELKER: – okay? Because it’s important that we hear from you about all of this. Tell me –
TRUMP: Well, I’d like you to, but you keep interrupting me.
WELKER: Tell me – Mr. President, tell me what you see when you look at your mugshot?
TRUMP: I see somebody that loves this country, and me, that loves this country. I see tremendous unfairness. I think very few people would have been able to handle what I handled.
WELKER: By the way, do you think your former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, is still loyal to you? He just pleaded not guilty in the Georgia case.
TRUMP: Well, I hope he’s loyal to me.
WELKER: Do you worry about him flipping?
TRUMP: I mean, I didn’t do anything wrong –
WELKER: Do you worry about him –
TRUMP: I didn’t do anything wrong.
WELKER: Okay. I want to ask you about the case related to Mar-a-Lago. A new charge suggests you asked a staffer to delete security camera footage so it wouldn’t get into the hands of investigators. Did you do that?
TRUMP: That’s false.
WELKER: It’s false?
TRUMP: That’s false, but let me tell you —
WELKER: Would you testify to that under oath?
TRUMP: Sure. I’m going to. I’ll testify —
WELKER: You’ll testify to that under oath?
ME: OK, hold on. Are you willing to promise that you will take the stand at trial?
TRUMP: It’s a fake —
TRUMP: – charge by this deranged lunatic prosecutor, who lost in the Supreme Court nine to nothing. And he tried to destroy lots of lives. He’s a lunatic. So it’s a fake charge. But, more importantly, the tapes weren’t deleted. In other words, there was nothing done to them. And they were my tapes. I could’ve fought them. I didn’t even have to give them the tapes, I don’t think. I think I would have won in court. When they asked for the tapes, I said, “Sure.” They’re my tapes. I could have fought them. I didn’t even have to give them. Just so you understand, though, we didn’t delete anything. Nothing was deleted.
ME: OK let’s unpack that one. We didn’t say the tapes were deleted. The guy you asked to delete them apparently refused to do it. That’s why they became evidence against you. And of course you needed to give the FBI the tapes – they had a subpoena for them. As for Jack Smith being a lunatic, let’s roll the tape of his announcement of your second indictment.
SMITH: The attack on our nation’s capital on January 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy. As described in the indictment, it was fueled by lies. Lies by the defendant targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the U.S. government, the nation’s process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election.
ME: That doesn’t sound like a lunatic to me. Do you even deny attempting to overturn the election in your favor? I mean, you did it in plain view.
WELKER: So that’s false. The people who testified —
TRUMP: Number one, the statement is false. Much more importantly, when the tapes came, and everybody says this, they weren’t deleted. We gave them 100%.
WELKER: Okay. Let’s —
TRUMP: And, and, and, just so you know, I offered them. I said, “If you want to look at tapes, you can look at them.”
WELKER: Let’s move on to January 6th and the allegations that you tried to subvert the election. And, again, I just want to give you a chance to talk about this because voters want to hear about this. The most senior lawyers in your own administration and on your campaign told you that after you lost more than 60 legal challenges that it was over. Why did you ignore them and decide to listen to a new outside group of attorneys –
TRUMP: Because I didn’t respect them —
WELKER: You’d hired them.
TRUMP: – as lawyers. Sure. But that doesn’t mean — you hire them, you never met these people. You get a recommendation. They turn out to be RINOs, or they turn out to be not so good. In many cases, I didn’t respect them. But I did respect others. I respected many others that said the election was rigged.
ME: How is that you’ve hired so many lawyers who, according to you, turned out to be incompetent? And, to be clear, are you saying you respected Rudy Giuliani more than your own White House counsel? What reason did you have for that besides the fact that he agreed with you?
WELKER: You called some of your outside lawyers – you said they had crazy theories. Why were you listening to them? Were you listening to them because they were telling you what you wanted to hear?
TRUMP: You know who I listen to? Myself. I saw what happened. I watched that election, and I thought the election was over at 10 o’clock in the evening.
WELKER: You were listening to your instincts?
TRUMP: My instincts are a big part of it. That’s been the thing that’s gotten me to where I am, my instincts. But I also listen to people. There are many lawyers. I could give you many books. There are books that are written on how the election was rigged. There are numerous books that were written on how the election was rigged.
ME: Let me stop you there. There is not one iota of evidence in the public record that the election was rigged. None. Are you still suggesting you have secret evidence? Can you cite one piece of evidence right now? Otherwise, please explain why you keep saying this when you must know it’s not true?
WELKER: Just to be clear, were you listening to your lawyers’ advice, or were you listening to your own instincts?
TRUMP: I was listening to different people. And when I added it all up, the election was rigged. There are books that are written –
WELKER: Were you calling the shots though?
TRUMP: In fact, Mollie Hemingway wrote a great book –
WELKER: But were you calling –
TRUMP: – called “Rigged” –
WELKER: – the shots ultimately?
TRUMP: Excuse me. Mollie Hemingway, who’s highly respected and great, she wrote a book, a bestselling book called “Rigged.”
WELKER: Were you calling the shots, though, Mr. President, ultimately?
TRUMP: As to whether or not I believed it was rigged? Oh, sure.
ME: So you’re ruling out a defense based on the fact that you were relying on advice of counsel, then. That’s news.
TRUMP: It was my decision. But I listened to some people. Some people said that. Like, guys like Bill Barr, who was a stiff, but he wasn’t there at the time. But he didn’t do his job because he was afraid. You know what he was afraid of? He was afraid of being impeached. He was petrified to be impeached. And he – how do you not get impeached? Don’t do anything.
WELKER: Now, as you just heard, former President Trump referred to the federal indictments against him as “Biden indictments.” The indictments have been charged by a special counsel. And according to the White House, President Biden has not spoken to the attorney general about them, and the White House found out about them from news reports. As for the impeachment inquiry, so far congressional investigators have not presented any evidence that President Biden has profited off of Hunter Biden’s business dealings. I also talked to former President Trump about his actions on January 6th and why he never sent help when the Capitol was under attack. In our conversation he directly contradicted the sworn testimony of one of his aides, who testified to the January 6th committee that the former president was so determined to go to the Capitol himself after his rally that he grabbed a service agent inside the president’s limo. Take a listen.
TRUMP: I wanted to go down peacefully and patriotically to the Capitol. Secret Service, who I have great respect for, said, “Sir, it’s better if you don’t do that. It could be unsafe.” Because – they didn’t mean because of riots because, you know, it takes one guy with bad intentions, okay. So I didn’t have a dispute with them. You know you had that one person said I grabbed the man around the neck. Actually, I wish I was so strong to be able to do that. These are all tough guys, smart guys –
ME: What did you have in mind? Did you see yourself walking into the Capitol, with the rioters behind you, to demand that Biden’s electors be rejected?
WELKER: So you dispute that account?
TRUMP: Dispute it? Who wouldn’t dispute it? She’s – the craziest account I’ve ever heard. You mean that I was in “The Beast,” and she said I was in “The Beast,” and the Secret Service didn’t want — so I took a guy who was like a black belt in karate and grabbed his neck and tried to choke him –
ME: OK let’s roll tape of Cassidy Hutchinson please. Here she is telling the Jan. 6 committee about her conversation with Tony Ornato, who served as your deputy chief of staff. The conversation took place in the presence of Bobby Engel, the head of your Secret Service protective detail.
HUTCHINSON: Tony described him as being irate. The president said something to the effect of I’m the f’ing president, take me up to the Capitol now, to which Bobby responded, sir, we have to go back to the West Wing. The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel.
We’re going back to the West Wing. We’re not going to the Capitol. Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel.
ME: Hutchinson, who seemed a credible witness, also said that Engel did not deny this happened. And nobody, to this day, has denied that it happened, except you.
WELKER: What happened –
TRUMP: How ridiculous. Just so you understand, and I have great respect for Secret Service, by the way. They’re fantastic. The Secret Service said, “Sir, it would be better if you didn’t.” I said, “I’d love to do it.” They said, “It would be better.” And so we went back to the White House. Just so you understand: I spoke. I made a very nice speech.
WELKER: Tell me how you watched this all unfold. Were you in the dining room watching TV?
TRUMP: I’m not going to tell you. I’ll tell people later at an appropriate time. Just so you understand, however –
ME: The time you spent in that dining room is essential to establishing your state of mind as the insurrection was taking place. Common sense suggests that you were pleased to see what was going on, because after all, they were doing exactly what you’d urged them to do. And you didn’t make any attempt to stop them for several hours. So this is an appropriate time for you to tell the public about precisely what you were doing in there.
WELKER: What did you do when the Capitol was –
TRUMP: And I made beautiful statements.
WELKER: – under attack, though –
TRUMP: Let me just tell you –
WELKER: – in the moment that the Capitol was under attack?
TRUMP: Did you see the statements I made in the Oval Office and just outside of the Oval Office?
WELKER: Absolutely. I was there that day.
TRUMP: “Go home. Our police are great. We love our police. We love everybody. Go home.”
ME: Let’s roll tape of that speech.
TRUMP: I know your pain, I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt.
It’s a very tough period of time. There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened where they could take it away from all of us — from me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil.
I know how you feel, but go home, and go home in peace.
ME: Almost everyone watching the riot unfold was horrified by it. Were you? Because it doesn’t sound like you were.
WELKER: That was –
TRUMP: This was –
WELKER: That was before –
TRUMP: – a beautiful statement –
WELKER: That was at 4 o’clock in the afternoon –
TRUMP: When that statement was made –
WELKER: – more than –
TRUMP: – I don’t know –
WELKER: – three hours after the attack –
TRUMP: But there –
WELKER: – started –
TRUMP: – but there were tweets that were put out –
WELKER: – Mr. President –
TRUMP: – before that.
WELKER: I want to know who you called on that day.
TRUMP: By the way, Nancy Pelosi –
WELKER: I want to talk about that day.
TRUMP: I don’t have — why would I tell you that? Listen. Nancy Pelosi –
WELKER: Don’t want to talk about that?
TRUMP: – was in charge of security. She turned down 10,000 soldiers. If she didn’t turn down the soldiers, you wouldn’t have had January 6th.
ME: Nancy Pelosi was not in charge of security. The executive branch has the responsibility to keep the Capitol safe. It failed. Isn’t that on you?
WELKER: Did you call military or law enforcement?
WELKER: Did you call military or law enforcement at the moment the Capitol was under attack?
TRUMP: I’m not going to tell you anything. I told –
ME: Why won’t you answer that question? Is it an unreasonable question? We want to know what if anything you did to stop the attack while it was taking place. Apparently, you did nothing.
TRUMP: Let me put it this way. I behaved so well. I did such a good job. Nancy Pelosi turned down 10,000 soldiers. If she didn’t do that –
WELKER: But Nancy Pelosi doesn’t have the authority that you had as commander and chief, though.
TRUMP: – and now I understand – I understand that the police testified against — listen to me, Kristen. Listen to me. I understand that the police testified against her – the chief, very strongly against her. Capitol Police, they’re great people. They testified against her. And they burned all the evidence. Okay? They burned all the evidence.
ME: Why are you saying things that are untrue? Nobody burned any evidence. And the central question remains: Why wasn’t the executive branch better prepared, especially given all the intelligence showing that the Capitol was a target? Do you have an answer to that?
WELKER: Mr. President –
TRUMP: They destroyed all the evidence about Nancy Pelosi.
WELKER: What do you say to people who wonder why you — you, as commander in chief, you have authorities that Nancy Pelosi doesn’t have, as commander in chief.
TRUMP: No, no. She has authority over the Capitol.
WELKER: Why didn’t you send help in that moment, though?
TRUMP: Uh, frankly, just so you understand, I assumed that she took care of it. She turned down —
ME: So you’re in your dining room, watching TV, watching people storming the Capitol, and you think Nancy Pelosi has taken care of things, so you didn’t need to do anything?
WELKER: But when you realized that the National Guard wasn’t coming? When help wasn’t coming?
TRUMP: Well, you don’t realize anything until quite a while. National Guard are not coming. I asked her to be there three days in advance. And she turned it down.
WELKER: She says that that request was never officially made, just so you know.
TRUMP: Oh, stop it. Let me just tell you –
WELKER: Let me ask you about pardons –
TRUMP: The mayor of D.C. –
WELKER: Mr. President –
TRUMP: The mayor of D.C. gave us a letter, saying that she turns it down, okay? We have it. Nancy Pelosi also was asked, and she turned it down. The police commissioner of Capitol Police –
WELKER: I’m talking about the day of, though.
TRUMP: Wait a minute.
TRUMP: Capitol Police said that he wanted it. And Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t accept it. She’s responsible for January 6th.
ME: Nancy Pelosi is responsible for January 6th? Are you really going to stick to that line? What about you?
WELKER: Let’s – Mr. President.
TRUMP: Nancy Pelosi is responsible. And the J6 Committee refused to interview her.
WELKER: Mr. President, you’re the president though. You have – You have authorities that no one else has, as the commander in chief. Do you think you showed leadership on that day?
TRUMP: Yes. Absolutely. I did.
WELKER: Mr. President, if you were re-elected, would you pardon yourself?
TRUMP: I could’ve pardoned myself. Do you know what? I was given an option to pardon myself. I could’ve pardoned myself when I left. People said, “Would you like to pardon yourself?” I had a couple of attorneys that said, “You can do it if you want.” I had some people that said, “It would look bad, if you do.” Because I think it would look terrible. I said, “Here’s the story. These people are thugs, horrible people, fascists, Marxists, sick people. They’ve been after me from the day I came down the escalator with Melania. And I did a great job as president.” People are – great economy, great jobs, great this, great that, rebuilt the military, Space Force, everything. We – I could go on forever. Let me just tell you. I said, “The last thing I’d ever do is give myself a pardon.” I could’ve given myself a pardon. Don’t ask me about what I would do. I could’ve. The last day, I could’ve had a pardon done that would’ve saved me all of these lawyers, and all of these fake charges, these Biden indictments. They’re all Biden indictments, political. They indicted – they want to arrest their political opponents. Only third-world countries do that, banana republics. So, ready? I never said this to anybody. I was given the option. I could’ve done a pardon of myself. You know what I said? “I have no interest in even thinking about it.” I never even wanted to think about it. And I could’ve done it. And all of these questions you’re asking me about, the fake charges, you wouldn’t be asking me because it’s a very powerful, it’s a very powerful thing for a president. I was told by some people that these are sick lunatics that I’m dealing with. “Give yourself a pardon. Your life will be a lot easier.” I said, “I would never give myself a pardon.”
ME: What exactly would you have pardoned yourself for, given that you hadn’t been charged yet? And — in the case of the documents you took from the White House and refused to return — you hadn’t even done that yet?
And why do you use such incredibly incendiary and hyperbolic rhetoric to refer to these prosecutors? “Thugs, horrible people, fascists, Marxists, sick people… sick lunatics.” Is that really an appropriate way to talk about public servants who, by many accounts, are just doing their jobs? Why so nasty and personal?
WELKER: Even if you were re-elected in this moment?
TRUMP: Oh, I think it’s very unlikely. What – what did I do wrong? I didn’t do anything wrong.
ME: There’s not one thing you would do differently?
WELKER: Now a bit of context here on Mr. Trump’s allegations he ordered troops in the days leading up to the January 6th attack. The Defense Department says the former president never gave a formal order to have 10,000 troops ready to be deployed to the Capitol. Of course it’s unreasonable to blame former Speaker Pelosi or lawmakers on Capitol Hill for what happened that day. Pelosi’s office said at the time that the claim that she turned down troops was quote “completely made up.” When we come back former President Trump explains how would handle calls from within the GOP for a federal ban on abortion.
WELKER: In the last election, more than a quarter of voters said the issue of abortion mattered most to them just behind inflation and the economy and last night, nine Republican candidates were back in Iowa, speaking to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a reminder of how potent the abortion issue is in that early state. Mr. Trump didn’t attend the event but I asked the former president how he would handle abortion in a second term.
WELKER: I do want to talk about the issue of abortion which is –
WELKER: – important to a lot of voters all across the country. Just this week, women in Idaho and Tennessee, I don’t know if you saw this, filed suit against their states saying their lives were put at risk after they were denied abortion services, because of their states’ restrictive laws put in place after Roe was overturned. So my question for you, Mr. President, is: How is it acceptable in America that women’s lives are at risk, doctors are being forced to turn away patients in need, or risk breaking the law?
TRUMP: Ready? Little bit of a long answer. I hope you have time.
WELKER: I hope you have time. I’m here for as long as you have.
TRUMP: So you have Roe v. Wade, for 52 years, people including Democrats wanted it to go back to states so the states could make the right. Roe v. Wade – I did something that nobody thought was possible, and Roe v. Wade was terminated, was put back to the states. Now, people, pro-lifers, have the right to negotiate for the first time. They had no rights at all, because the radical people on this are really the Democrats that say, after five months, six months, seven months, eight months, nine months, and even after birth you’re allowed to terminate the baby –
WELKER: Mr. President, Democrats aren’t saying that. I just have to, Democrats are not saying that. Does it bother you though that women say their lives are being put at risk? Do you feel you bear any responsibility, because as you say, you are responsible for having Roe v. Wade overturned.
TRUMP: What’s going to happen, this is an issue that’s been going on for a long time. And it’s a very polarizing issue. Because of what’s been done, and because of the fact we brought it back to the states, we’re going to have people come together on this issue. They’re going to determine the time, because nobody wants to see five, six, seven, eight, nine months. Nobody wants to see abortions when you have a baby in the womb. I said, with Hillary Clinton when we had the debate, I made a statement, “Rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month, you’re allowed to do that, and you shouldn’t be allowed to do that.”
ME: Stop. Why are you saying things you know aren’t true? Nobody wants to “rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month.” That’s a terrible lie. The issue is whether an abortion should be allowed after 21 weeks of pregnancy in two cases: If the fetus isn’t viable, or because the mother’s life is at risk. Would you condemn women with an unviable fetus to bring it to term? And why is the government even involved in a decision that should be between the woman and her doctor?
WELKER: Again, no one is arguing for that –
TRUMP: Again, listen, look –
WELKER: That’s not a part of anyone’s argument, Mr. President.
TRUMP: Look, the Democrats are able to kill the baby after birth.
ME: You can say that a million times and it’s still not true. You are lying or badly deluded. Which one?
WELKER: Let me talk to you –
TRUMP: Nobody wants that.
WELKER: Democrats don’t want that either.
TRUMP: So we’re going to come together –
WELKER: But let’s – I want to – I want to know what you want. I want to know what you’re going to do if you’re –
TRUMP: We are going to come together –
WELKER: Would you sign federal legislation that would ban abortion at 15 weeks?
TRUMP: No, no. Let me just tell you what I’d do. I’m going to come together with all groups, and we’re going to have something that’s acceptable. Right now, to my way of thinking, the Democrats are the radicals, because after four and five and six months. But you have to say this, after birth. You have New York State and other places that passed legislation where you’re allowed to kill the baby after birth.
WELKER: Mr. President, I want to give voters who are going to be weighing in on this election –
WELKER: – a very clear sense of where you stand on –
TRUMP: I think they’ll – I think they’re all going to like me. I think both sides are going to like me.
ME: That seems unlikely.
WELKER: But, let me, let me – but Mr. President –
TRUMP: What’s going to have to happen is you’re going to have to –
WELKER: Mr. President, let me just ask this question, please–
TRUMP: Kristen, you’re asking me a question. What’s going to happen is you’re going to come up with a number of weeks or months. You’re going to come up with a number that’s going to make people happy. Because 92% of the Democrats don’t want to see abortion after a certain period of time.
WELKER: If a federal ban landed on your desk if you were reelected, would you sign it at 15 weeks –
TRUMP: Are you talking about a complete ban?
WELKER: A ban at 15 weeks.
TRUMP: Well, people, people are starting to think of 15 weeks. That seems to be a number that people are talking about right now.
WELKER: Would you sign that?
TRUMP: I would sit down with both sides and I’d negotiate something, and we’ll end up with peace on that issue for the first time in 52 years. I’m not going to say I would or I wouldn’t. I mean, DeSanctus is willing to sign a five-week and six-week ban.
WELKER: Would you support that? You think that goes too far?
TRUMP: I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake. But we’ll come up with a number, but at the same time, Democrats won’t be able to go out at six months, seven months, eight months and allow an abortion.
WELKER: Mr. President, when you talk about negotiating, I think a lot of people think to themselves, this is an issue that they care about deeply in their hearts –
TRUMP: I care about it too. Oh, I care about it too.
WELKER: And they know where they stand, and they want to know where you stand. As you know, some anti-abortion groups are really looking for some clarity from you. So let me just ask you to put a fine point on this. Should the federal government impose any abortion restrictions, or should it be completely left up to the states?
TRUMP: No, I don’t think you should have – I don’t think you should be allowed to have abortions well into a pregnancy.
WELKER: But what about the question I just asked you –
TRUMP: We’re going to agree – no – we’re going to agree to a number of weeks or months or however you want to define it. And both sides are going to come together and both sides – both sides, and this is a big statement, both sides will come together. And for the first time in 52 years, you’ll have an issue that we can put behind us.
WELKER: At the federal level?
TRUMP: It could be state or it could be federal. I don’t frankly care.
WELKER: So you’re not committed to a ban at the federal level.
TRUMP: I will say this. Everybody, including the great legal scholars, love the idea of Roe v. Wade terminated so it can be brought back to the states.
WELKER: It sounds like that’s what you think too, that it should remain a state issue –
TRUMP: Well, I, I would, I would say this: From a pure standpoint, from a legal standpoint, I think it’s probably better, but I can live with it either way. It’s much more important, the number of weeks is much more important. But something will happen with the number of weeks, the amount of time, after which you can’t do it. And you know what? The most – the most powerful people that are anti-abortion are okay with that now. And you know what? They weren’t okay with that even a year ago.
WELKER: Your former vice president, Mike Pence, believes that a fetus should have constitutional rights. Do you believe that, Mr. president?
TRUMP: Well, Mike Pence said something about 15 weeks too, which was a big change for Mike Pence, because Mike Pence had no exceptions. I have exceptions, by the way. I think people should have exceptions. I think if it’s rape or incest or the life of the mother, I think you have to have exceptions. It’s very important.
WELKER: Does a fetus have constitutional rights, Mr. president?
TRUMP: And a lot of people, when they don’t have exceptions – now, I will tell you that I think most people, most Republicans are willing. You go: life of the mother, rape, incest. I think most of them are there.
WELKER: But should a fetus –
TRUMP: That’s a big statement.
WELKER: – have constitutional rights, Mr. president?
TRUMP: Well, I don’t know, I don’t know what he’s saying, because before, he wanted, you know, you couldn’t have abortions at all –
WELKER: But what are you saying? What do you think –
TRUMP: Now all of a sudden – excuse me – now all of a sudden he’s saying 15 weeks. I said, “Wow, where did that come from? That’s a radical change.” Look, something is going to happen that’s going to be good for everybody. And that’s what I’m – I’m almost like a mediator in this case. They wanted Roe v. Wade terminated because it was inappropriate. We got it done. Something is going to happen. It’s going to be a number of weeks. Something is going to happen where the both sides are going to be able to come together. And then we’ll be able to go onto other things, like, the economy, our military –
WELKER: Are you saying a federal ban with exceptions, is that what you’re saying?
TRUMP: What I say is very simple, because you can’t put words in my mouth like that –
WELKER: I just want to understand.
TRUMP: – because you’ve been hearing me talk about this–
TRUMP: – issue –
TRUMP: – and I think talk about it very productively. It could be a state ban, it could be a federal ban, but Democrats want that too. Democrats don’t want to see abortion in the seventh month, okay. I speak to a lot of Democrats. They want a number. There is a number, and there’s a number that’s going to be agreed to, and Republicans should go out and say the following. They – cause, I think the Republicans speak very inarticulately about this subject. I watch some of them without the exceptions, et cetera, et cetera. I said, “Other than certain parts of the country, you can’t – you’re not going to win on this issue. But you will win on this issue when you come up with the right number of weeks.” Because Democrats don’t want to be radical on the issue, most of them, some do. They don’t want to be radical on the issue. They don’t want to kill a baby in the seventh month or the ninth month or after birth. And they’re allowed to do that, and you can’t do that.
ME: OK, so it sounds to me like you are saying there should be a ban on abortion after a certain number of weeks all across the country, with exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. And you’d support a federal ban if the states don’t all pass one. But you won’t commit to how many weeks. Do I have that right?
WELKER: One important fact we do want to highlight: abortions later in pregnancy are exceedingly rare. When we come back, we turn to foreign policy. the war in Ukraine and whether Mr. Trump would consider sending the U.S. military into Taiwan if China were to invade.
WELKER: Welcome back. The Republican party’s biggest fight may be on the issue of Ukraine where Republican candidates led by former President Trump are turning away from the party’s traditional national security roots and questioning the U.S.’s commitment to the war. I asked Mr. Trump about what he believes are the stakes in Ukraine for the United States.
WELKER: Do you think that our security, the United States’ security, is linked to Ukraine’s security?
TRUMP: I think that Europe has to do more. We’re in for $200 billion. They’re in for $25 billion. And it affects them more than it affects us. It certainly affects them much more than it affects us.
ME: Your numbers are all off. In reality, the U.S. has sent Ukraine about $70 billion in aid; the European countries have pledged more twice that much. Let’s look at this graphic.
WELKER: So you do think that it’s linked in some way?
TRUMP: I think Europe is taking advantage of a stupid president.
WELKER: You’ve probably –
TRUMP: Look. Look. Biden should say to them, “You have to equalize. You have to catch up.” You know, Europe is about the same size as our economy if you add them all up, add the countries up. It’s about the same size. And Biden should say to them, like I did with NATO – you know, NATO, they all owed money. I said, “Get your money in.” And we had over $430 billion put in almost immediately. And the head of NATO, Stoltenberg, secretary general, nice guy, he said to me, the most amazing thing I’ve ever done – and he said it publicly too.
ME: He did not say that. Your numbers are way off (the total NATO budget is about $35 billion a year.) And the increases were due to an agreement that preceded your term in office.
WELKER: Let me ask you about your strategy though. Because you have said you want to end this war in 24 hours.
WELKER: You saw the meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Putin. Do you think that complicates your strategy, if you were re-elected, to try to end this war in 24 hours?
TRUMP: No, look, it would have been easier if the war didn’t start. And you’d have hundreds of thousands of people living, most importantly. But it would have been a lot easier if it didn’t. But I can get it done and I can get it done quickly.
WELKER: Some people hear you say you’re going to end the war in 24 hours and they worry that means President Putin is going to get to keep the territory he’s unlawfully claimed.
TRUMP: No, no, no, no. I’d make a fair deal for everybody. Nope, I’d make it fair.
ME: What is “fair” for Putin, the invader? Is it fair to reward him?
WELKER: It doesn’t mean that? It wouldn’t be a win for Putin?
TRUMP: You know, that’s something that could have been negotiated. Because there were certain parts, Crimea and other parts of the country, that a lot of people expected could happen. You could have made a deal. So they could have made a deal where there’s lesser territory right now than Russia’s already taken, to be honest. And you could have made a deal where nobody was killed. They had a deal. They would have had a Ukraine country. Now nobody even knows if Ukraine is going to be totally taken over. I will say this: something’s going on, and it’s not good for Ukraine.
ME: You make it sound like Ukraine precipitated the war, not Putin, which is wildly untrue.
WELKER: I want to ask you about something President Putin said about you this week. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. This was very recent. President Putin said, quote, “We surely hear that Mr. Trump says he will resolve all burning issues within several days, including the Ukrainian crisis. We cannot help but feel happy about it.” What do you make of that? Do you welcome this support?
TRUMP: Well, I like that he said that. Because that means what I’m saying is right. I would get him into a room. I’d get Zelenskyy into a room. Then I’d bring them together. And I’d have a deal worked out. I would get a deal worked out. It would’ve been a lot easier before it started. Essentially, for four years, I kept them from doing anything. Because you know what? I will tell you this. I never said this. Ukraine was the apple of his eye. I said, “Don’t ever do it. Don’t ever do it.” He would have never done it. But again, oil prices. He wouldn’t have done it because of me. But oil prices. The prices were so high that he had so much money. So he had all this money to prosecute the war. The one who drove up the prices was Biden.
WELKER: Given that President Putin has bombed maternity wards, 20,000 kids kidnapped from Ukraine by Russia. Mass graves.
TRUMP: It’s all terrible. It’s all terrible.
WELKER: Do you welcome his support, his all but endorsement?
TRUMP: Look, I had a very good relationship with him. And yet nobody was tougher on Russia than me. I stopped Nord Stream 2. You never heard of Nord Stream 2. That was the pipeline until I got involved. I said, “Nord Stream 2.” People that were sophisticated, military people, and political people never heard of Nord Stream 2. I had it ended. The pipeline was dead. Biden came in and he approved it. There was nobody tougher than me with Russia. And yet I got along with Putin. Let me tell you, I got along with him really well. And that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. He’s got 1,700 nuclear missiles. And so do we. But, look, that’s a good thing. Getting along is okay. But I got along through strength. And the war would have never happened. The war would have never happened. Now what’s happened, it’s so bad, the oil price is so high, it’s hard to get it stopped. The oil price is so high. When he goes above $50 and $60 a barrel, he makes a lot of money on the war. Now, it’s a humanitarian thing. It’s a lot of different reasons. But I will get that war stopped very, very quickly.
ME: Nord Stream 2 was never dead. And are you suggesting that Putin invaded Ukraine to drive oil prices up?
WELKER: I want to talk about another region that you’ve talked about.
TRUMP: It’s too bad we have to wait so long.
WELKER: Let’s talk about another region you talked about: China. If you were to cut a deal between President Putin and President Zelenskyy, do you run the risk of emboldening China to invade Taiwan?
TRUMP: No. Not at all. Because China, he’s another one I got along to, until we had the China virus come in. Once Covid came in, okay? It was like – And I made a great trade deal with China, one of the greatest deals ever made for the farmers and for the manufacturers, $50 billion a year. It was a great deal. I don’t even talk about it. Because once Covid came in, it was, like, I didn’t want to talk about anything. I was a much different person. What happened to this world, not our country, the whole world. What happened with Covid. And it just shouldn’t have happened. It shouldn’t have happened. What happened, what China did to the world was so bad. But I had a great relationship with —
WELKER: Would you send troops to Taiwan?
TRUMP: I had a great relationship with President Xi, a really great relationship. And he was going to stop fentanyl from coming in. He was going to do a lot – He was going to criminalize it if you made it. You know, in China, they have a death penalty for drug dealers. He was going to make that with fentanyl dealers too. But then the election didn’t work out and he never had to do that.
WELKER: I know you’ve been asked this, but very quickly, if China were to invade Taiwan, have you made a determination, again, since voters are about to go to the polls, would you send the U.S. military into Taiwan if President Xi were to invade? President Biden says he would.
TRUMP: I won’t say. I won’t say. Because if I said, I’m giving away – You know, only stupid people are going to give that – I heard the other day, DeSanctimonious said something about he was willing to do this or he was going to do that. I say, “Well, why is he saying the strategy?” You can’t say that. So when you ask me that question, I would never say that. Because you give away all your options.
WELKER: But you don’t take it off the table?
TRUMP: I don’t take anything off the table, no.
And here are some other questions I would have asked:
- Tell us how you view the separation of powers in a future Trump administration. What, if anything, could the president not do unilaterally?
- The racist “replacement theory” falsely asserts that Western elites, manipulated by Jews, are bringing nonwhites into the United States to replace white voters in order to achieve their social and political goals, which ultimately include the extinction of the white race. Do you believe in the replacement theory?
- What do you think American schoolchildren should and should not be taught about slavery?
- Should a gay schoolteacher not be allowed to tell their students they are gay? At what grades?
- Surely you agree that you engaged in a massive effort to change the results of the 2020 election, in order to be declared the victor, right?
- Do you understand why many people consider that a crime?
- The Presidential Records Act stipulates that presidential records belong to the public, not to the president. Were you aware of that when you took some of your records out of the White House? When you, several times, refused to give them back?
- If you are the Republican nominee in 2024, and you are declared to have lost the general election, is the only possibility that the vote was rigged? Or might you simply lose outright?