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Trump News Conference Amid Impeachment Inquiry, Syria Crisis. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired October 16, 2019 - 13:00   ET


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: -- $178 billion annual trade.


We welcome Italy's support for a mutually beneficial trade agreement with the E.U. that ensures a level playing field for American workers, and it hasn't been that for many, many years. I could solve the problem instantly but it would be too harsh. It would involve tariffs on European products coming into this country, and for right now, we're going to try and do it without that. But that would solve the problem instantly, because the United States is not being treated fairly.

We also welcome Italy's participation in combating predatory trade and investment practices worldwide, especially in technology. We must work together to shield our intellectual property, critical infrastructure, ports and data security. I applaud Italy's recent commitment to use only safe and trustworthy technology providers, components and supply chains, especially relating to the 5G networks. We'll work together to take further steps to secure the technology of the future.

And speaking of 5G and how it relates to China, we've done a rather incredible trade deal, especially right now, phase one, for our farmers and for the finance industry, financial services, and it's been really quite amazing.

Excuse me? Is there a problem back there?

It's been quite amazing. The level of receptivity has been much different than in the past. China and myself, our representatives, their representatives have made a deal from $40 to $50 billion in farm products, agricultural products. People said we were hoping for 20. So China has been good.

And they've already started purchasing, by the way. That's already started. The agreement, we hope to have it signed sometime prior to Chile. We're going to Chile. President Xi and myself will probably do a signing over there of phase one, assuming it all gets finished up, which we think it wil..

There's been a lot of goodwill between the United States and China over the last period of time. So we're signing $40 to $50 billion. And that was incorrectly

reported in the press, shockingly. That will take place -- it's already started taking place. They're already purchasing a lot of farm product, all of the banking regulations and all of the financial services, all of the other things that are included.

And there are many other things in phase one that I won't talk about now, but all of that is moving along rapidly. Bob Lighthizer is with us someplace here and he is in the process of getting it completed. I have a great staff of people working on both sides.

Mr. President, it's a true pleasure to host you in our nation's capital, you and your family and your deeply personal relationship to your country, you love your country so much just in speaking to you for a short while. I see how much you love Italy and I can understand that. It's really an inspiration and testament to the patriotism and pride of the Italian people. Great spirit for Italy.

America is grateful to have true friends and allies in the citizens of Italy. We have such a great relationship with the people of Italy.

The United States is likewise thankful to be home to more than 16 million Italian-Americans. Tonight here at the White House, we'll celebrate our deep and abiding friendship with Italy and the really incredible Italian people. The U.S./Italian alliance is stronger than ever before, and we're going to be celebrating that tonight with you, Mr. President. So I look forward to that very much in a little while.

And in the meantime, thank you very much and we'd love to have you say a few words. Thank you.

SERGIO MATTARELLA, ITALIAN PRESIDENT: -- for his invitation, and for the welcome both to myself and to my entire delegation.

The relationship between the United States and Italy are marked by a deep friendship and by common interests, both strengthened by the presence here in the U.S. of so many Americans of Italian descent.

That's another reason why I'm so happy to be here on this visit in October dedicated this year, again, to Italian heritage.

I'd like to go back to what President Trump was saying when he mentioned Christopher Columbus, who opened up new horizons. He got to know and connected continents which ignored one another. And based on the role of the U.S.'s in the world, it seems to me that he did a good job back then.


To Italy, the U.S. is not only a fundamental ally. It is also a country with which -- of democracy, a country which shares the same values of freedom, of the protection of human rights, of the respect for minorities, of the rule of law.

Italy's international vision is based on the pillar which is the Atlantic alliance, which then over time also led to European integration of the European Union, which was a consistent process. These are two essential elements in our foreign policy and in our cooperation. We are united, the U.S., Italy and Europe are united due to our history, due to our common references, due to the culture we share and due to the very intense human relations we have between our fellow citizens.

As President Trump -- and NATO is first and foremost a community of values which Italy recognizes and to which Italy participates with a great deal of conviction and very affectionate. Italy has always contributed very intensely to NATO missions and operations and with a great deal of effectiveness. And we have substantially supported the activities of the alliance.

And I'd like to remind you of the fact that besides being the fifth contributor to NATO, Italy is the second contributor in terms of the troops it devotes to NATO missions. After the U.S., we rank number two in the number of troops participating in NATO operations along with all of the other missions we perform through the U.N. and in the coalition against terrorism which has developed in recent years.

And I'd like to remind you of the fact that, as we speak, six Italian F-35s of the Italian Air Force are patrolling the skies over Iceland in the framework of the second NATO mandate as a way of ensuring peace and security.

Italy has constantly reiterated that the transatlantic spirit has to be nurtured, protected with all of our strength in all the dimensions of the relationship we share. And with this spirit in mind, we hope, I hope that with the new five-year parliamentary term within the new European Union, we can foster our cooperation on trade between the U.S. and the E.U.

We are aiming to find solutions that can strengthen our relationships because commercial trade tensions are to the benefit of no one. We feel that imposing tariffs on one another mutually is counterproductive and it damages both of our economies.

And I'd like to add that we share with the U.S. the belief that the WTO should be reformed as a way of making it more efficient and more effective.

As President Trump mentioned, we talked about Syria. We are deeply concerned with Turkey's offensive in the northeastern part of Syria and this attack in a limited number of days has already caused a number of casualties and tens of thousands of refugees and displaced people. And there were plenty of victims amongst civilians as well.

This is an attack which also has another risk, namely that of offering new space, which was unthinkable a few days ago to ISIS and to its criminal terrorist activities in Syria, in the Middle East, but not just in the Middle East, also in other continents around the world. Italy, in line with the E.U.'s position, condemns the Turkish operations, which are ongoing.

We have also talked about Libya, and that we've talked about this topic as all of the other topics with the spirit of friendship and in a very tangible way.

[13:10:13] The current situation in Libya is a source of deep concern to us and we are convinced of the fact that the violence and the military attacks can destabilize all of North Africa. It increases the threat of terrorism and it contributes to creating an environment which fosters all kinds of illegal trafficking. And, of course, it jeopardizes the production of energy in that country. And most of all, it denies the Libyan people the possibility of finding a peaceful solution, which it deserves after so many years.

We talked about our relationships with China together with President Trump. And through an open dialogue with China, we want to defend the world order based on clear rules with the U.N. at the center of the world order and an open and fair market, one which complies with the principles of the World Trade Organization.

And from this point of view, we discussed two topics, namely, security concerning new technologies, and I'm referring to 5G. Italy has been paying close attention to our national security requirements. It has paid close attention to it and it will continue to do so.

We also underlined the need to Have a level playing field in trade and investments so that there can be a fair and healthy trade relationship. There needs to be an access to the market which doesn't discriminate anybody and we need to be able to protect intellectual property for all of the economic players involved without any theft of technology.

All of these topics were discussed with a full spirit of friendship, with a great deal of cooperation along with many other topics. And this opportunity was also an excellent opportunity to reiterate the friendship between the U.S. and Italy and the very strong relationship between our two countries within the framework of the Atlantic alliance.

And for that reason, I want to thank President Trump very much for our meeting, for our talks, for your welcome and I'll be seeing you again this afternoon on an occasion which will be filled with great many elements of meaning and importance. Thank you, Mr. President.

TRUMP: Well, thank you very much, Mr. President. The WTO, the World Trade Organization, as everyone knows, we just won $7.5 billion because of unfair trade practices. And that will be distributed in a fair way throughout various countries in Europe and we're talking to the president about that as it pertains to Italy.

He thought we were a little bit harsh on Italy and we don't want to be harsh on Italy. We'll never do that. So we'll look at that very strongly. We will look at that for you. That was one of the requests made and we will be taking a look at that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President. I wanted to ask about Turkey. Did President Erdogan's decisions surprise you? And if they did not surprise you, would you make the same decision as you made before in removing U.S. forces? And I guess we just heard that UAW and G.M. may have been able to work out a deal. If I could get your reaction to that and what that might mean for the U.S. economy.

And, Mr. President, if I could ask you about the digital tax did the two of you discuss a possible digital tax as it relates Amazon and Google? What progress were you able to make on that front? Thank you very much.

TRUMP: President Erdogan's decision didn't surprise me because he's wanted to do that for a long time. He's been building up troops on the border with Syria for a long time, as you know. Our soldiers are mostly gone from the area. We only had 26, 28, but under 50. I think it's probably 28, but under 50 soldiers, and which is a very tiny force. And it didn't surprise me at all.

This is -- they've been warring for many years. It's unnatural for us, but it's sort of natural for them. They fight and they fight long and they fight hard and they've been fighting Syria for a long time and on the border, that's the border with Syria.

And I say why are we protecting Syria's land? Assad's not a friend of ours. Why are we protecting their land? And Syria also has a relationship with the Kurds, who by the way are no angels, okay? Who is an angel? There aren't too many around, but Syria has a relationship with the Kurds so they'll come in for their border and they'll fight.


They may bring partners in. They could bring Russia in, and I say, welcome to it. Russia went into Afghanistan when it was the Soviet Union and it became Russia. It became a much smaller country because of Afghanistan. We can overextend, we can do a lot of things. But, frankly, if Russia is going to help in protecting the Kurds, that's a good thing, not a bad thing. But it would be led by Syria.

And Syria doesn't want Turkey to take its land. I can understand that. What does that have to do with the United States of America and the fighting over Syria's land? Are we supposed to fight a NATO member in order that Syria, who is not our friend, keeps their land? I don't think so. But Syria does have a relationship with the Kurds. The thing that's common is that everybody hates ISIS.

Now, the PKK, which is a part of the Kurds, as you know, is probably worse at terror and more of a terrorist threat in many ways than ISIS. So it's a very semi-complicated, not too complicated if you're smart, but it's a semi-complicated problem and I think it's a problem that we wave very nicely under control. We have two countries wanting their land.

We have one country that wants land perhaps that doesn't belong to them because they want to gave a 22-mile strip of -- they call it freedom. They call it a lot of things. They want to get terrorists out. You have another country that says you can't have our land, and they're going to have to work that out. Now, with that being said, Mike Pence is going there. He'll be leaving either late. And he was going to leave yesterday, but they have to have certain security done. He's a very important man in our country. And he'll be leaving with Secretary of State Pompeo. We already have representatives there negotiating with Turkey. We put massive sanctions on Turkey and we have additional sanctions on Turkey.

When I ran, I ran on a basis we're going to bring our great soldiers back home where they belong. We don't have to fight these endless wars. We're bringing them back home. That's what I won on. And some people, whether you call it the military industrial complex or beyond that, they'd like me to stay. One of the problems I have and one of, for instance, with the witch hunt, you have people that want me to stay, they want me to fight forever. They do very well fighting. That's what they want to do, fight. A lot of companies want to fight because they make their weapons based on fighting. And they take care of a lot of people.

I want to bring our soldiers back home. We're not a police force. We're a fighting force. We're the greatest fighting force ever. I spent $2.5 trillion over the last almost three years rebuilding our military. When it took it over, it was a mess. It was an absolute mess. It was totally depleted. You know that. A lot of people know that. Honest people all know that.

When I was thinking about having to do something, one of our generals came in to see me and said, sir, w don't have ammunition. I said, that's a terrible you just said. So now, we have more ammunition than we've ever had. We have more missiles, we have more rockets. Our nuclear has been totally updated and, in some cases, new. Hopefully to God we never have to use it. But we have the most powerful nuclear base by far in the world. And we have things that we never had before.

We have a great modern military but that doesn't mean we're going to waste it. It doesn't mean we're going to deplete it, like we did before with these crazy endless wars.

So Turkey and Syria will hopefully work it out between themselves. Hopefully ISIS will be guarded. I spoke with, as you know, a wonderful man yesterday, a general from the Kurds. You all know who I'm talking about. Some of you have seen the letter that I put out to Erdogan, I gave it to him, President Erdogan.

And some of you have seen it with the general. I said, open those Doors and let them out just to create more havoc so that (INAUDIBLE) we've just opened. Let's create some havoc and political exposure for the president of the United States. We were the ones that got ISIS. We're the ones that took care of it, specifically me because I'm the one that gave the order. Because when I came in under President Obama, ISIS was a disaster all over that area. I was the one that got them. We were the ones that captured them.

And I will say this, that Russia, Iran, Syria and to maybe a slightly lesser extent, Turkey, they all hate ISIS as much as we do, and it's their part of the world.


We're 7,000 miles away. I campaigned on bringing our soldiers back home and that's what I'm doing. That includes other places too, many other places. Statutorily, it takes a period of time. Diplomatically, it takes a period of time. But we're in many countries, many, many countries. I'm embarrassed to tell you how many. I know the exact number but I'm embarrassed to say it because it's so foolish. We're in countries. We're protecting countries that don't even like us. They take advantage of us. They don't pay nothing.

You probably saw, some of you wrote and covered the fact that we're sending some additional troops to Saudi Arabia. That's true and I appreciate the fact that I negotiated for a short period of time, a matter of minutes with Saudi Arabia, and they've agreed to pay for the full cost of all of that deployment and more, much more.

A very rich country, they should be paying and so should many other countries be paying if they want this kind of protection. Same thing with NATO. We're at 4 percent and other countries are at 1 percent. And certainly a European country benefits much more than we do with NATO. It's there for a reason.

And perhaps we benefit, but not nearly as much as the European countries. Some people say we don't benefit at all. We put ourselves in harm's way. But we do that for Europe, but then they treat us badly on trade, not fair.

So I would say that we're in a great position. We're doing what I said. We have two countries that are going to argue over their border. Hopefully, they'll work it out. We're going to try and work it out. I think our vice president is a very capable man, will do well

tomorrow. He's going to meet with President Erdogan. President Erdogan said he wouldn't meet with anybody and he took that back just a little while ago and he said, no, I will. And I think they'll have a successful meeting.

If they don't, the sanctions and tariffs and other things that we're doing, we will do, and are doing to Turkey will be devastating to Turkey's economy. I got Pastor Brunson home. Nobody else could do it. The previous administration tried very hard. They were unable to do it. I did it very quickly. And let's see what happens. But I think we'll be very successful. But we've got to get out of the endless wars. We have to bring our troops back home.

I go to Walter Reed and I give out purple hearts. I just did it on Friday. I see the incredible soldiers coming home to Dover, coming home in a coffin on areas that we have nothing to do with, we have nothing to do with. And it's heartbreaking. I sign letters all the time to parents whose son was shot in different places in the Middle East mostly. It's very heartbreaking to see, very heartbreaking.

So I've said it and it's through strength, not through weakness, much harder to do what I'm doing. I could be like all of these others, oh, just leave them there, leave them there, no, I can't do it. It's much easier for me, much probably politically better for me just to say we'll leave a lot of people there and we'll fight. They don't even know what they're fighting for.

It's much more difficult politically. It's not politically expedient. It's just the opposite. And I have people even on my side that want to fight. I say, why are we fighting? I don't know. They don't even know.

So you have Syria and you have Turkey. They're going to argue it out. Maybe they're going to fight it out, but our men aren't going to get killed over it. And just one other thing, they've been fighting for hundreds of years. It's been going on for hundreds of years.

So it's a long answer, but I think I've got much of it out, and thank you very much.

Please, question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure, thank you. Mr. President, I was asking if the two of you discussed a possible digital tax and where that discussion might be going in particular as it might relate to Google and Amazon and others. Thank you, sir.

MATTARELLA: Yes, I understood the question. No, we did not talk about this. And, of course, this is an open issue. It's very important. It is being discussed in a number of different international contexts so that this important issue can be discussed and solved.

TRUMP: I have to say it was interesting because I did discuss it with another European Union member, namely France. And France is basically doing the digital tax. And I'm no fan of those companies.


They were against me. Somebody said I lost maybe 2 million votes, maybe more because of Facebook. But these are American companies. And whether you like it or not, they're great big American companies.

And I'm not happy with a digital tax where France and European Union is taxing our companies. And as you know, we imposed a big tax on French wine because of it.

So just to answer your question, Kevin, I'm not happy about the fact that they are taxing our companies. I'm not a fan of those companies, but if anybody is going to tax those companies, it should be the USA. It shouldn't be France and the European Union, who have really taken advantage of the United States, okay?

Thank you very much. Good question.

Okay. You can pick somebody, Mr. President.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A question for President Mattarella. As far as Syria is concerned, in recent days you talked about the risk Europe runs in terms of not responding to the situation. In recent days, some European countries including Italy have discussed a possible ban on selling weapons to Turkey. Do you think this can be an adequate way to respond to the situation also considering that Turkey is and continues to be a member of NATO?

Mr. President, I would like to ask you, on September 27, Attorney General Barr has been in Rome to meet with Italian intelligence officials. I would like to know if you personally talked with Prime Minister Conte to arrange this meeting, what kind of information Attorney General Barr was looking for, and if you were satisfied from the information the Italian intelligence gathered for you.

TRUMP: Well, I don't know the details. I just know that our country is looking into the corruption of the 2016 election. It was a corrupt election, whether it's Comey or McCabe or Strzok or his lover, Lisa Page, the two great lovers. There was a lot of corruption. Maybe it goes right up to President Obama. I happen to think it does.

But you look at Brennan and you look at Clapper and you get some real beauties. I know that they're looking into the corruption. Obviously, the I.G. report is coming out soon so we'll find out.

I don't know anything about the meeting but certainly it would be appropriate because the word is, and you read it in the same papers that I do, that they did go to other countries to try and hide what they were doing. Italy may have been one of them.

So you'll really have to ask Attorney General Barr, okay? Thank you.

MATARRELLA: Yes, Turkey is a member of NATO and that is something very important, of course. I'd like to remind you of the fact that, currently, there is an Italian contribution to Turkey. We have an anti-missile system which Italy has been having in Turkey for a number of years within the context of a NATO mission.

As in Latin said (ph), Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas, which means something more important than my trip is the truth. The relationships and friendships and alliances, of course, don't mean that we can't say that the Turkish attack on Syria is a serious mistake. So we condemn that attack with no hesitation or whatsoever due to the reasons I mentioned earlier. The solution, of course, doesn't lie in sanctions. And if the situation continues, sanctions will be inevitable.

And Italy has made announcements as has the European Union. The only solution is to stop all military operations and to retreat from that area as a way of stopping all of the dangers that I mentioned earlier.

TRUMP: John, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to pick up on your comments on Turkey and Syria.

TRUMP: Sure. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even after all you have seen, ISIS prisoners freed, all the humanitarian disaster, you don't have any regret for giving Erdogan the green light to invade?

TRUMP: I didn't give him a green light.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, did you tell him to --

TRUMP: That's the same thing as you just -- when you make a statement like that, it's so deceptive, just the opposite of a green light. First of all, we had virtually no soldiers there. They were mostly gone, just a tiny little group. And they would have been in harm's way. You have a massive army on the other side of the border. But more importantly, I didn't give them a green light.

And if anybody saw the letter, which can be released very easily, if you'd like, I could certainly release it. But I wrote a letter right after that conversation, a very powerful letter. They were never given a green light. They have been wanting to do that for years. And, frankly, they've been fighting for many, many years.

And when you ask a question like that, it's very deceptive, John.


It's almost as deceptive as you showing all of the bombings taking place in Syria that turned out that the bombing that you showed on television took place in Kentucky.