Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump Speaks Out From Oval Office; Trump Calls Himself a Nationalist. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 23, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: He's getting pretty comfortable with this whole nationalist thing.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Of all the things he's ever said, this could be one of the most important, President Trump today not backing down from calling himself a nationalist -- why that word is giving so many people anxiety today.

Breaking news. With Russians still interfering in elections and a new nuclear arms race possibly on the horizon, plans are coming into place for a second Putin-Trump summit, you know, since that first one went off without a hitch.

Plus, throwing shade. President Obama's former photographer will be here telling why he decided to devote much of his Instagram account and a brand-new book to trolling President Trump.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Breaking news, President Trump just speaking in the Oval Office. We're about to get those comments any moment.

We will bring them to you as soon as we do.

CNN's Pamela Brown is at the White House.

And, Pamela, apparently the president had a lot to say.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He discussed a wide variety of topics with reporters in the Oval Office, including his latest label of himself, calling himself a nationalist, what he meant by that in terms of trade, negotiating trade deals with Mexico and Canada.

And he also expressed some concern over Turkey's President Erdogan making the statement that the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, "The Washington Post" reporter, was premeditated murder, which, of course, is different from what the Saudis said, that this was accidental.

Here's what else the president said in the Oval.

TAPPER: Pamela, we're going to...


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's being discussed right now.

Mike -- Bolton, as you know, is in Russia, talking about various things, including the whole nuclear situation, where we're not treated well for many years. It should have been done a long time ago. And I think something good could come out of that.

And I very well meet with -- I think we probably will. It hasn't been set up yet, but probably it will be.

QUESTION: Could you settle some of the confusion over your comments about what you mean when you say you're a nationalist? What does that mean?

TRUMP: I love our country. And our country has taken second fiddle. If you look at the trade deals -- and nobody knows it better than me. I'm knocking out some of the worst deals I have ever seen, where we're giving all of our wealth, all of our money to other countries. And then they don't treat us properly, where we're protecting other rich countries, very, very rich countries, including, by the way, a country that happens to be very much in the news, Saudi Arabia, immensely wealthy.

And we're taking care of their military for a fraction of the cost. Not fair to us, other countries also, immensely wealthy countries. And we have to get reimbursed for that. We should not be the world's police-keeper and not get reimbursed.

And, by the way, when I bring up to the heads of countries like Japan, Prime Minister Abe, a friend of mine, I bring it up, he looks at me, and he goes, "I understand."

They understand it. Nobody has ever asked him. I said, have you ever asked? I said, have you ever been asked, like, you have to be, like, help out? Nobody has ever asked. So that's a pretty unfair thing. I will get back to you. I will get back to you.


TRUMP: Wait, wait, wait. Wait. Wait. I'm going to get back to you.


QUESTION: Can I ask my follow-up question?

TRUMP: No, not now. I will get back to you, I said.

QUESTION: All right.

TRUMP: You can't take the whole thing. You have a lot of other very fine reporters here.

QUESTION: No, I understand.

TRUMP: Go ahead, yes.


TRUMP: No, I'm behind you, please.

QUESTION: Mr. President, have you heard back -- or, personally, can you tell us what you think about (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: What President Erdogan said?

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

TRUMP: Well, he was pretty rough on Saudi Arabia, I would say.

I haven't gotten a full recap. As you know, I have people in Turkey and I have people in Saudi Arabia and other places. And they're all coming back as we speak. They're heading back.

I will know, I think, everything in a very short period of time.

It's a bad situation. But, Certainly, President Erdogan was not complimentary of what happened. That was a terrible thing that happened, OK?

Yes, ma'am, go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh, I was going to ask, do you believe him, what he said? (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: I want to see the facts first.

Look, Saudi Arabia has been a really great ally. They've been one of the biggest investors, maybe the biggest investor in our country. They are doing hundreds of billions of dollars worth of investments, and, you know, so many jobs, so many jobs, thousands and thousands of jobs.

And if you look at the other side, Iran, you look at what they have done to people, vicious, horrible. And that's no excuse for what happened with Saudi Arabia, no excuse whatsoever.


But you take a look. It's a rough part of the world. It's a nasty place. It a nasty part of the world. But if what happened happened, and if the facts check out, then it's something that's very bad.

At the same time, they have been a very good ally of ours. They have been helping us a lot with respect to Israel. They have been funding a lot of things.

I will tell you that Russia and China would love to have that military order. I mean, I can say it to my Democrat friends, too. I mean, they would love -- this is $110 billion worth of military. And Russia would pick that up very quickly and China would pick it up very quickly. And France would pick it up very quickly.

France makes a lot of military equipment. It's a very competitive market. I did a great job when I sold them on it. That's why I went to Saudi Arabia first. I went to Saudi Arabia on the basis that they would buy hundreds of billions, many billions of dollars worth of things.

And the ultimate number is around $450 billion, 110 for military, $450 billion. I think that's over a million jobs, a million to over one million jobs. So, we do that, we're just hurting ourselves. We're just hurting ourselves.

And I know that, from a certain standpoint, you could also say, well, it doesn't matter, because it is a terrible thing. But we would be really hurting ourselves. We would be hurting our companies. We would be hurting our jobs.

And so we will see what happens. But I should have a pretty good report in a couple of seconds. I should have a pretty good report very soon.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Mr. President, just to follow up on your comments about being a nationalist, there is a concern that you are sending coded language or a dog whistle to some Americans out there that what you really mean is that you're a white nationalist.

TRUMP: I have never even heard that. I cannot imagine that.

You mean I say I'm a nationalist...

QUESTION: You have never heard...


TRUMP: No, I have never heard that theory about being a nationalist. I have heard them all.

But I'm somebody that loves our country. When I say a nationalist, I don't like it when Germany is making 1 percent of GDP for NATO, and we're paying 4.3 percent. I don't like that. That's not fair.

I don't like it when, as an example, we're protecting Europe. And we're paying for almost the entire cost of NATO. We're paying for a very, very substantial portion, far greater than what it should be.

We have great respect for those countries. But, on top of that, I don't like it when they put up barriers to our farmers, where our farmers cannot sell into Europe. They have trade barriers that make it -- you guys know it better than anybody. They have trade barriers that are as severe as China's trade barriers, which will be coming down.

They want to make a deal very badly. They will be coming down. But I am very proud of our country. We cannot continue to allow

what's happened to our country to continue happening. We can't let it happen. So I'm proud. I'm proud of our country.

And I am a nationalist. It's a word that hasn't been used too much. Some people use it. But I'm very proud. I think it should be brought back.

I'm somebody that wants to help other countries of the world, but I also have to take care -- we have to take care of our country. We cannot continue to allow ourselves to be duped on military and also duped on trade, with the European Union as an example.

Last year, on trade, we lost $151 billion. On top of that, we lost hundreds of billions of dollars on protection. So, we protect, and we get killed. We do the trading, and they get killed. Can't do it.

I want it to be fair. So I want them to open their borders. I want them to make it fair for our farmers, our companies, our medical companies. They sell medical equipment. They just put restrictions on a year-and-a-half ago where the medical equipment can't get into Europe, even though it's better than what they have.

So they have to treat us well. All I want, our country, is to be treated well, to be treated with respect. For many years, other countries that are allies of ours, so-called allies, they have not treated our country fairly.

So, in that sense, I am absolutely a nationalist. And I'm proud of it.

Yes, Jeff.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you said this weekend and yesterday that you were planning a tax -- a new tax project.



QUESTION: Can you explain what you mean (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Well, very simple, very simple.



First off, if you speak to Kevin Brady and a group of people, we're putting in a tax reduction of 10 percent, which I think will be a net neutral, because we're doing other things, which I don't have to explain now, but it will be pretty much of a net neutral. But it will be great for the middle class.

It's going to be a tax reduction of 10 percent for the middle class. Business will not enter into it. And this will be on top of the tax reduction that the middle class has already gotten.


And we're putting in a resolution probably this week. I think you folks know about it. And Kevin Brady has been working on it very hard, really for a couple of months. We will put that in and we will start the work after the -- sometime after the midterms.

QUESTION: Mr. President, why the decision now to send two U.S. Navy warships through the Taiwan Strait?

TRUMP: I will leave that decision to myself and my generals and my admirals, OK? Not to you.

QUESTION: Are you worried about any negative reaction (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: I'm not worried about anything. I don't worry about things.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mr. President, on the tax cut proposal, when you say that you want a middle-class tax cut, is that an acknowledgment that the original GOP tax cut was too heavily tilted in favor of wealthy Americans and corporations?

TRUMP: No. No, it really wasn't.


TRUMP: It's been great. The tax cut that we had, even if you look estate taxes and what it's done for the small farmers and for small businesses, if you look at the past -- I'm talking about the one that was passed -- we're very proud of it.

And what it did, more than anything else, it brought jobs, tremendous numbers of jobs. That's why our job numbers -- you hear it all the time when I speak -- we have the best numbers, literally, we have ever had.

African-American unemployment, lowest ever. Asian-American. Hispanic-American. No matter what category you look at. Women, 65 years -- lowest in 65 years.

A lot of that was done by regulation-cutting and a lot of it was done by the tax plan, and that all inures obviously to the middle class. In addition, they paid less. They walk away with $2,000, $1,000, $4,000. That's a lot of money.

This is in addition to that. But, on this one, we're not going to do any business, because we think the business is really very incentivized. On this one, we're doing a pure 10 percent tax cut for the middle class, in addition to what they have already gotten in the first place.

QUESTION: But shouldn't the middle class have gotten a bigger tax cut to begin with? TRUMP: Well, I didn't think we could get any more than we got. I mean, we got the max.

And now, because of the fact that the economy is doing so well, we feel that we can give up some more. I couldn't have gotten that extra 10 percent when we -- when we originally passed the plan. We maxed out.

Now -- and we had to take care of jobs. Jobs are very important. We gave the middle class a lot. But we couldn't have -- now, as you have obviously seen, business has done so well. We have brought in hundreds of -- many hundreds of millions of dollars from offshore because of the tax plan.

And that all went to creating -- Apple, as an example, I was with them. They're going to be spending $350 billion on building new facilities in the United States, which is something, as you know, from a long time ago, I have been saying it from the beginning.

I want Apple to build their plants here. They're going to spend $350 billion. They're bringing in $230 billion offshore because of our tax plan. Now, that helps everybody. That's good for everybody.

But this is in addition to the very substantial tax cuts that the middle class has already gotten. So this will be a 10 percent. It's going to be a resolution, probably introduced this week, the end of the week or early next week.

And Kevin Brady has been drawing it up actually for a while. We have been working on it very hard for a pretty long period of time. OK?

QUESTION: Mr. President?

TRUMP: Yes, Jeff. Go ahead. Finish.

QUESTION: There was somebody else, sir. Go ahead.



QUESTION: Mr. President, you said yesterday that you expected a briefing from -- or from investigators today on the Saudi case. Is that still the case? Or...

TRUMP: Well, they're heading back. A couple of them are heading back.

Gina -- Gina, as an example, went to Turkey.

QUESTION: Have you hard anything from (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: I have heard, but I would rather talk about it when everybody is back here.

QUESTION: OK, so, tomorrow, you expect that? TRUMP: I think they will be back tonight and tomorrow, early

tomorrow, almost all of them.

QUESTION: Ahead of your meetings in Paris with President Putin and some other European leaders, have you spoken to any of them about the Saudi issue?

TRUMP: Yes, we have.

And Mike Pompeo has, and John Bolton is actually over there now. We have spoken to many of them. They are -- nobody -- nobody likes what happened. Let me put it that way. There's nobody that said, oh, gee, that's wonderful. They were all very angry about it, and they're very upset about it, nobody more so than me.

QUESTION: What do you think it means for the broader relationship going forward, whether or not this bill...


TRUMP: Well, it's a good question.

And I think what I'm going to be doing is maybe a little bit what I did with respect to the FBI investigations having to do with Justice Kavanaugh, when they were asked for, more time, by the Democrats.

I said, look, I'm going to leave it up to the senators that were doing the job. And I think, here, I'm going to leave it up very much to Congress. Congress has some very strong ideas, both -- both ways.

I have been told by certain senators, we want that investment to keep coming. At the same time, that doesn't mean that they're not going to do something. There has to be some kind of retribution. There has to be, no matter what you do.

I have been told by others that they don't want investment of $450 billion.

[16:15:04] I think that's foolish. But there are some that feel that. But I'm going to leave it very much -- in terms of what we ultimately do, I'm going to leave it very much in conjunction with me up to Congress. And that means Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, and one independent, right?

But I'm going to have -- I want to have the folks in Congress come back and make recommendations to me because I'd like that to be a bipartisan recommendation. I think we can get a bipartisan recommendation. I really do, because they feel -- I don't think they feel any differently than I do. It's terrible. It's a terrible thing.

REPORTER: Mr. President, why do you think something like this could have happened? Do you think that there was a failure of leadership on the world stage?

TRUMP: They had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly. And the cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover-ups. It's very simple.

Bad deal. Should have never been thought of. Somebody really messed up. And they had the worst cover-up ever. And where it should have stopped is at the deal standpoint, when they thought about it, because whoever thought of that idea, I think is in big trouble. And they should be in big trouble. OK?

Yes? Anybody else?

REPORTER: Mr. President, one more thing on the caravan. You had said there were Middle Easterners.


REPORTER: In the caravan. Can you explain that? Are you saying there are terrorists?

TRUMP: Well, there could very well be, yes. There could very well be. And if you look at --

REPORTER: Do you know for sure?

TRUMP: I have very good information. I have very good information.

And if you look at what's happened with Honduras and statements made about Honduras and even a phone call that our vice president had today, which I think you can maybe reveal. Do you want to mention that, Mike? Is that OK? Probably.


TRUMP: Go ahead, please.

PENCE: At the president's direction, I spoke to President Hernandez of Honduras. He told me that the caravan that is now making its way through Mexico, headed for the southern border was organized by leftist organizations and financed by Venezuela. And we -- as we have said --

TRUMP: And the Democrats maybe? And the Democrats.

PENCE: Well --



REPORTER: Mr. President, it sounds like a teaser. But there's no proof are paying for --

TRUMP: You know what? You're going to find out. And we're going to see. Maybe they made a bad mistake, too. We're going to find out about that.

What else did they say, Mike, about ISIS? Did they say something? PENCE: Well, just that it's been organized by leftist groups. They

have made their way north. Once they crossed into Guatemala, now crossed into Mexico. There are some estimates north of 7,000 migrants. So, the group is growing.

The United States of America intervenes and prevents ten terrorists or suspected terrorists from coming into our country every day. So, it's -- it is inconceivable that there would not be individuals from the Middle East as a part of this growing caravan.

What the president is determined to do is put the safety and security of the American people first, and I know the president will be addressing this in the coming days about ways we need to close the loopholes that human traffickers and other dangerous individuals used to entice vulnerable families to make the long and dangerous trek north.

REPORTER: Mr. Vice president, are you saying you have evidence that there are terrorists in the caravan right now?

PENCE: What I can say to you is --

REPORTER: Statistically, there has been a number --


REPORTER: So you're saying there are terrorists in the caravan. A lot of Middle Easterners who live in the United States, Middle Eastern descent, find that kind of rhetoric --

TRUMP: I'll take it -- let me just tell you something.

REPORTER: Isn't that true, Mr. President?

TRUMP: Let me just tell you something. I spoke with border patrol this morning and I spoke to them last evening and I spoke to them the day before, I speak to them all of the time. And they say, and you know this as well as anybody, over the course of the year, over the course of a number of years, they have intercepted many people from the Middle East. They have intercepted ISIS.

They have intercepted all sorts of people. They have intercepted good ones and bad ones. They have intercepted wonderful people for the Middle East, and they have intercepted bad ones. They have intercepted wonderful people from South America, and from other parts further South.

They have intercepted a lot of different people. But among the people they have intercepted, very recently, are people from the Middle East. OK?

So you can't be surprised when you hear it. You've heard that before. It happens all of the time. And I spoke to them -- literally last night, and another one this morning. Very good relationship with Border Patrol and ICE and they say it happens all of the time from the Middle East. [16:20:03] It's not even saying bad or good, but some real bad ones.

But they intercept --

REPORTER: They're in the caravan now.

TRUMP: They could very well be.

REPORTER: But there's no proof.

TRUMP: There's no proof of anything. There's no proof of anything. But they could very well be.

If you look at what that was building -- they were talking about 5,000 or 6,000 people. I'm pretty good at estimating crowd size as you probably have figured out. You tend to get a little bit off the real number.

Last night as an example, that was record-setting stuff, wasn't it, huh? They don't want to talk about that. Let me just tell you. I believe that -- pretty big. That was pretty impressive by any standard. And these are great people.

And, by the way, your vote -- we just heard the vote is -- and this could be good, bad or indifferent for Democrats or Republicans. But the amount of voting is at a level they have never seen before for the midterms. You heard that.

I mean, I don't know whether I'm supposed to say that's good or bad. But I will tell you, the amount of people voting is at a level, Sara, that you've never seen at midterms. A record level, by a lot.

So I think very -- I think there's a very good chance, honestly, that you have people in there. I also think there is a very good chance that over a course of a period of time you have, or they don't necessarily have to be in that group. But certainly you have people coming up through the southern border, from the Middle East and other places that are not appropriate for our country.

And I'm not letting them in. They're not coming in. All right? They're not coming in. We're going to do whatever we have to. They're not coming in. OK?

REPORTER: Are you trying to stoke fear --

TRUMP: No, not at all.


TRUMP: I'm a very nonpolitical person. And that's why I got elected president.


Do you share that assessment? PENCE: President Hernandez, when President Trump asked me to call the

president of Honduras when this caravan was initiated, he told me it had been organized by leftist groups in Honduras that were being financed in part by Venezuela and organized by human traffickers who have no regard for human life, organized by dangerous gang members. They're moving people north. When I spoke to President Morales in Guatemala, he informed me they were already busing people in the caravan back who had been left behind, left by the side of the road. Elderly, vulnerable families, simply left behind by this caravan.

People need to understand, the people that are driving this caravan north to challenge our sovereignty, to challenge our borders, are doing so without any regard for human life. And doing it to advance some political statement, or in the case of human traffickers, strictly for financial profit. And the president is absolutely determined to use all means at his disposal to organize efforts to have Mexico turn this caravan around, and work with Congress to close the loopholes that human traffickers use every day to entice vulnerable families to make this dangerous trip north.

TRUMP: I really think, though, that what this really shows is that we have to change the laws.

PENCE: Right.

TRUMP: I say this having two very highly respected Democrat senators behind me. But we have to do something that we all agree with. We have to change the laws. We have to make them much different.

They're very soft, and it's a different time. Truly a different time. Maybe there was a time that could have been appropriate.

But we have to have immigration laws now that are suitable for this time and at work. And the ones that we have now are old and they don't work. They don't work, and they don't come close to working.

And we need protection. We have to have a wall. We have been building the wall. We started the wall. San Diego is almost completed, that whole -- that whole area of California. But we want to do it quickly. We don't want to take years to do it.

But I really believe that -- and I think that -- I don't say anything -- that kind of an asset, when you look at what's happening, when you look at heartache on both sides. It really is. Heartache on both sides.

But when you look at 10,000 people -- because I don't believe there were 5,000. I believe there were much more than 5,000. On the bridge, when you saw it on the bridge, the group. I really think that it probably spells out to us and Congress something has to be done. You can't have this happen. Something has to be done.

So in that way, I think maybe it's going to be a good thing. We're going to see. We're going to see. We're counting on our military. We'll have to call up our military if we need to.

But we can't let this happen. We cannot allow our country to be violated like this. And it's very unfair.

People are waiting in line that went through a legal system of immigration. And they have been going through it for many years. And they have worked hard. They have done everything they're supposed to do. And people just come running across the border. It's really unfair to the millions of people that are waiting in line to come legally into our country. Very unfair.

Yes, go ahead, Jeff.

REPORTER: Do you see any argument, Mr. President, for trying to improve the conditions in those countries by not decreasing aid, but perhaps maintaining or increasing aid?

TRUMP: I've heard that argument before, but it hasn't worked for a long time, those countries. I want to improve the conditions in our country. I want to improve the conditions here.

Now, part of that condition and improving the condition is we are doing so well, so many companies are coming in -- I spoke with Prime Minister Abe very recently, and he informed me that we have five major car companies coming back here. I said, you have to do something. You have to balance it out, because it's like a one-way street.

The trade imbalances are so different between -- as an example, Japan -- just one, Japan and the United States. We have Foxconn coming in. They make the phones for Apple. They do a lot of work for Apple. They do a lot of work for everybody. They're coming, opening up in Wisconsin. But we have a lot of companies coming in.

We need -- at 3.7, it's the lowest in many years, many decades. We need great people coming in. I want great people to come in. I want them to come in through the merit system.

I looked at the people we're talking about. I really watched pretty carefully, all of the networks. I have to be honest with you. All of them.


TRUMP: Even CNN. You did. You had some beautiful shots of some very good people.

And I really think that some of those people, a lot of those people, I think there's a lot of talent in that group. There's a lot of talent. We need people, because I have companies coming into the United States. They have to be able to get workers.

And our great -- even conservative people that maybe three or four years ago would have felt differently about it, they now feel, we have to get people to operate these big plants and factories opening in the United States. I want them to come in. I want them to come in through a merit-based system.

And I think a lot of people are going to be happy with that. I want to build our country. I don't want to go to other countries to rebuild. That's what we have done. We have tried to rebuild the world and police the world.

It's now time to rebuild the United States and to properly police the United States. And that's what we're going to do. At the same time, we're going to help other countries all over the world. But we have to focus on our country for a change, and that's what we're going to do. OK?

Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you very much.

TAPPER: All right. There it is. President Trump taking questions in the Oval Office.

He touched on a lot of matters, ranging from what he exactly means when he calls himself a nationalist, to what he called one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups by the Saudis, to the caravan and whether or not he has any evidence, any proof to back up his claim that there are, quote, unknown Middle Easterners in this caravan heading north in Central America right now.

Let's talk about this with our experts, and let's start with the nationalist label that he gave himself yesterday, because Jim Acosta asked him, a lot of people think this is a dog whistle. You're calling yourself a white nationalist. President Trump, when he called himself a nationalist yesterday at a rally, acknowledged that it was a controversial term. He said, we're not supposed to use that word.

But he ultimately said he was talking about two things, trade and the fact that the U.S. spends a lot of money defending other countries and they don't chip in.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And he says he's never heard the term "white nationalist" before, which is kind of hard to believe, because it has been at the center of such discussion.

TAPPER: I think he said -- I'm sorry, I think he clarified and said he meant he hadn't heard the conspiracy theory that that's what he meant.

COLLINS: That he's a white nationalist.

TAPPER: Yes. It was tough to hear with back and forth because the reporters weren't mic'ed. So, that's what he meant.

COLLINS: But it is interesting in and of itself just to see the president labeling himself as a nationalist. He's come close before, mentioned it. I actually believe earlier this spring at the White House but not in the declarative way he did last night or the way that he did just there in the Oval Office.

And there is a reason presidents typically do not use that word because it has a negative connotation of extremism. That's why people say they're patriots, because patriotism is loving your country for what it does, nationalism is loving your country no matter what it does. So, it's just interesting to see the president really latch on to this term, try to turn it to something. But I think it goes back to when we see the president say something

and it gets a good reaction, he sticks with it. He was at that rally last night when he was saying he was a nationalist, it was getting a lot of cheers, some "USA" chants from the crowd. And that's what the president does.

I think if there is criticism of him using this term, he could change it. We've seen him do that before where he says one thing when he's at a rally, but then he's in the Oval Office and he's around world leaders --